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ASUS Z97-A LGA1150 Motherboard Review

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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A little over a month ago, Intel was unusually candid about their upcoming processor roadmap. While the enthusiast-oriented Haswell-E, futuristic Broadwell, and special edition Pentium chip definitely caught our attention, it is the new "Devil's Canyon" Haswell refresh that we will be seeing first. Although this Devil's Canyon revision is by no means revolutionary, it should help lower operating temperatures and improve overclocking, courtesy of an enhanced thermal interface material (TIM) between the die and the integrated heatspreader (IHS) as well as a noteworthy reshuffling of the CPU die layout itself.

By themselves these updates shouldn't necessitate a new chipset, but regrettably Devil's Canyon support will apparently not make its way down to current 8-series LGA1150 motherboards. As a result, it has been deemed by the powers-that-be as a great opportunity to unveil the 9-series chipsets and their new forward-looking features. We can have a discussion about this approach at a later date, but for now let's see what ASUS have come up with this new generation of motherboards.

The Z97-A actually resides near the bottom of ASUS' extensive Z97 motherboard lineup but it also competes within some of the most popular alternatives around. This is due to its price of $150 filling the gap in one of the market's most desired price points; one which feeds the needs of budget-minded gamers while also offering something to price conscious overclockers.

Now despite being at the lower-end of the spectrum, ASUS have really shot for the moon with this $150 model. It's usual for motherboard manufacturers to exclude key features from lesser priced models, but that doesn't seem to be the case with this new Z97-A. Its got a solid DIGI+ 8-phase CPU power design, a high-speed M.2 slot and SATA Express port, a bunch of SATA and USB connectivity, CrossFire and SLI capabilities, a high-quality Intel GbE NIC, DisplayPort/DVI/HDMI/VGA video outputs, and all the new BIOS and software advancements found on the higher-priced models. Frankly, the only place were the specs are less than ideal is in the use of the older Realtek ALC892 8-channel HD audio CODEC, which is a generation behind the very latest ALC1150 part used on all the other pricey motherboards.

So on the surface this model looks extremely promising giving its reasonable price tag, but will it hold up during up our testing? Keep reading to find out.

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MAC

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Specifications & Features

Specifications & Features



Before we get up-close and personal with new Z97-A through pictures, testing, and analysis, let’s take a look at this motherboard's specifications as per ASUS' website.

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As mentioned in the introduction, this motherboard has quite a few noteworthy features, and we will be examining some of them in-depth in the coming pages, especially the improved automatic overclocking functionality and a first look at the performance potential of the SATA Express interface.
 
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MAC

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Messages
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Location
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The Z97 Chipset; The Evolution Continues

The Z97 Chipset; The Evolution Continues


By now nearly everyone is familiar with Intel’s tick-tock strategy where every die shrink of a previous microarchitecture is succeeded by a new architectural revision. Hence the recent 22nm Haswell will soon be replaced with Broadwell, a family of chips based on Haswell’s design but built using a 14nm manufacturing process. This pattern of constant updates is realistic within the CPU world but the processor’s partner chipsets have always seemed to lag behind. Many will come to this conclusion when looking at Intel’s latest chipset, the LGA1150-based Z97.

Z97 actually presents an interesting case study in how certain key elements in a motherboard’s toolkit have moved forwards while others have retained the status quo since Z87 was rolled out in 2013. In the course of a year graphics and networking interfaces just haven’t evolved while storage technology has been given a boost of adrenalin through the ratification of SATA 3.2. This means in its most basic form Z97 and its associated H97 sibling are identical to their predecessors but have some additional storage compatibility bolted on to keep pace with current trends.

One interesting aspect of Z97 is its launch timeframe which was pulled forward. Instead of being introduced alongside Broadwell in Q4 of this year, Z97 can be considered a mid-life refresh that preempts (and fully supports) Intel’s upcoming Devil Canyon CPUs. Broadwell compatibility is built in as well.

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To many of you the block diagram above will look eerily similar since it’s nearly identical to the one posted in our Haswell / Z87 article. Every Z97 board will board full backwards compatibility with 4th generation Haswell and 5th generation Broadwell processors as well as the upcoming Haswell refresh, code named Devil’s Canyon. This grants the board access to 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes which can be split into two x8 lanes for SLI and Crossfire support or a one x8 and two x4 setup for applications that require more accessory PCI-E lanes. There’s also the usual 1600MHz DDR3/3L compatibility alongside a display output for multi monitor support from the processor’s integrated GPU core.

The Processor Graphics communicates with and ultimately outputs its display signals to the PCH via the FDI or Flexible Display Interface. This runs in parallel with the DMI interface, a link between the CPU and the PCH that features four bi-directional PCI-E lanes that can operate at speeds of up to 2 GB/s. This results in 4 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth if both upstream and downstream lanes are used to their theoretical maximum. These features have been staples within Intel’s chipset design for years now.

Moving down to the PCH itself, we have the usual capabilities for up to six SATA 6Gbps ports, six USB 3.0 ports (or 14 USB 2.0) and up to eight PCI-E 2.0 lanes. The “up to” designation is derived from Intel’s use of a purpose-built Flexible IO interface which we’ll talk more about on the next page. In short, Flex IO allows four of the PCH’s PCI Express lanes to be used for either PCI-E or SATA / USB 3.0 functionality depending on a motherboard manufacturer’s design goals.

While the integrated 10/100/1000 MAC, its partner Ethernet connection and the Intel HD Audio controller aren’t anything new, the addition of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology support for PCI Express storage devices is a pretty major addition. With it, PCIe-based SSDs will now have access to RST’s broad support toolkit which includes everything from RAID implementation to power management and other key features. Typically many of these were gained through ad hoc drivers from PCIe SSD manufacturers but now Intel is adding compatibility at the chipset level.

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The H97’s layout follows very much the same guidelines as Z97 but with features that are targeted towards system integrators and corporate clients rather than enthusiasts. The main differentiators here are a lack of dual graphics card support and no integrated backbone for the optional Extreme Tuning Utility but the addition of Intel’s Small Business Advantage Platform and Identity Protection Technology. Motherboards based around the H97 PCH will likely be seen at significantly lower price points than those using Z97.

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Most clients will likely look at both of these platforms’ primary capabilities and overlook a key option being added by Intel this time around: Device Protection Technology. This feature may be optional for motherboard manufacturers but we hope to see it being implemented on more systems. Device Protection and its associated Boot Guard institute a boot block at the hardware level against malware attacks. This prevents repurposing of the platform to run unauthorized software but is only available on Devil’s Canyon CPUs rather than existing Haswell processors.
 
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MAC

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Location
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SATA Express & M.2 Through Flex IO

SATA Express & M.2 Through Flex IO


While there may not be many additions to Z97 from a functionality standpoint, the porting of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology into the PCIe interface has some major implications for the PCH’s storage subsystem. First and foremost, it has allowed motherboard manufacturers to incorporate M.2 and SATA Express onto their boards.

Both M.2 and SATA Express are rolled into the new SATA 3.2 specification which was ratified last year. Both use a combination of standard SATA and a PCI Express bus alongside AHCI and NVMe interface standards for an ultra fast 10 Gbps data pathway. That represents a major performance uplift in comparison to current SATA 6Gbps drives.

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The implementation of SATA Express and M.2 has been achieved through the use of Intel’s Flexible IO interface. Essentially, the PCH houses a total of 18 ports which are split into three predominant groups: four SATA, six PCIe 2.0 and four USB 3.0 which make up the main connectivity options. The PCIe ports are typically used for connection to third party controllers or providing secondary PCI Express functionality to supplement the motherboard’s primary x16 slot(s).

Flex IO steps into this equation by providing four additional ports that are configurable. #5 and #6 can be used for either a pair of PCIe 2.0 lanes or USB 3.0 while ports #13 and #14 are either PCIe 2.0 or SATA 6G. The only limitation here is the Flex ports have to be paired up and maximum number of PCI Express lanes can’t exceed eight. This means if #13 and #14 are configured for PCIe, #5 and #6 will need to use USB 3.0 and vice versa.

On some boards, these additional Flex I/O ports will be combined with the six static ports and paired up with a PLX port multiplier to deliver an additional eight PCI-E 3.0 lanes for triple GPU support. This means sacrificing dedicated bandwidth towards Thunderbolt, additional networking capabilities and other controllers

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Motherboard builders can use those configurable Flex IO ports and provide a two lane PCI Express 2.0 interface to a compatible SATA Express / M.2 controller. This grants SATA Express and M.2 a theoretical bandwidth of 10Gbps but both interfaces can’t be used at the same time; it’s either one or the other. In addition, due to PCH limitations, there is a lack RAID compatibility, though some boards will use a PCI-E multiplier chip and support up to two SATA Express ports. RAID is still possible through the use of two M.2 drives running in parallel within a secondary enclosure that’s linked to the motherboard via the SATA Express interface.

As you might expect the implementation of these high speed storage standards is completely different when moving from one board to another. For example, some motherboards will disable secondary PCI-E slots when either an M.2 or SATA-E drive is detected while others will use the aforementioned port multiplier approach so the storage interfaces remain independent of other functions.

With all of this talk of high speed interfaces, there are still some limitations here. Since Intel has limited the Z97’s PCI Express lanes’ bandwidth to the 2.0 standard, any SATA 3.2 devices will be granted only a fraction of their available bandwidth without the use of expensive bridge chips and other, more exotic solutions. While dual lane controllers are the norm now, quad lane units which double the available bandwidth will be available in the coming months. This could leave Z97’s version of SATA Express and M.2 at a distinct disadvantage against add-in-board style PCI-E drives which can use more lanes and thus provide significantly higher performance.

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Another bit of good news here is the backwards compatibility of SATA Express with the existing SATA 6Gbps standard. Since the SATA-E port is composed of two SATA connectors alongside a plug for the PCIe communications, its two 6Gbps connections can be used for standard drives as well.

M.2 meanwhile is essentially a small form factor version of SATA Express that is compatible with Intel’s Smart Response Technology’s caching or it can be utilized as a primary storage interface. Due to the costs involved in higher capacity M.2 SSDs, we can’t see this being used as a primary means of storage for most systems. However, it could be extremely beneficial in the mATX and mini ITX markets where space is at a premium.

Another big question lies in Z87’s lack of SATA Express and M.2 support. There isn’t anything stopping Z87 motherboards from incorporating either of these but since the SATA 3.2 standard was ratified so close to that Lynx Point’s rollout, the necessary controllers and associated SSDs weren’t available until only recently. That means most Z87 boards didn’t include M.2 ports until the architecture’s final months. SATA Express was left off the table entirely due to Intel’s lack of PCIe-based support in their Rapid Storage Technology software stack. This has all changed with Z97 so we’ll likely see M.2 and SATA Express, both cornerstones of the SATA 3.2 interface, quickly become defining features.
 
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MAC

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Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories



Now that we have gone over the Z97-A's features and specifications, it is time to take a look at the packaging and the bundled accessories. Let's check it out:

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Compared to their Z87 series motherboards, ASUS have indeed refreshed their packaging a bit, leaning towards a slightly more subdued look. The new circular champagne-coloured PCH heatsink and 5-Way Optimization feature are - clearly - the most visible aspects of this new packaging. The rear of the of the box has a nice layout breakdown of the Z97-A, as well as quite a bit of detail about the other new features.

Once you remove the outside packaging, you are greeted with an inner box that contains two separate sections, the top half holds the motherboard in an anti-static bag and the bottom half contains the accessories, software and documentation, as you will see below.

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When it comes to the accessories bundle, the Z97-A comes with a fairly standard offering: a user manual, features guide, driver and software DVD, ASUS sticker, rear I/O shield, four SATA 6Gb/s cables, 2-way SLI bridge connector, I/O shield, and two Q-Connectors. There are no fancy external peripherals included here given the price tag, but as you can find sprinkled throughout our ASUS 9-Series Preview, there are interesting Thunderbolt 2 and SATA Express devices.
 
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MAC

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A Closer Look at the Z97-A

A Closer Look at the Z97-A


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Given how well motherboard designers have been doing as of late, it should as no surprise that the Z97-A's overall layout is well though out and there are certainly no show stoppers from our point-of-view. All the numerous buttons, connectors, and ports are very easily accessible and free from possible obstruction. The new M.2 slot is placed between the CPU socket and the first PCI-E slot, which might seem a little awkward at first, but you will need to get used to it since that is where it is located on nearly every single 9-Series motherboards that we have seen so far.

There is an excellent amount of spacing between two main mechanical PCI-E x16 slots, so there won’t be any issues fitting thick dual or triple-slot graphics cards on this motherboard. It should be mentioned that the Z97-A is based on the ATX form factor (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm / 12.0-in x 9.6-in), so there shouldn't be any issues when it comes to installing it into most standard cases. Lastly, It is probably worth mentioning that this motherboard does in fact have a brown PCB, whereas the other models in this lineup have a black one.

One interesting addition to the Z97-A isn't evident by just looking at it from a high level perspective: it supports both PWM and DC fan current options. This is unique to all ASUS Z97 boards and allows for much broader compatibility of cooling options.

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This motherboard features a stout all-digital DIGI+ VRM eight-phase power design consisting of Lower RDS(on) MOSFETs, Yageo sealed ferrite-core chokes, and 5K-hour solid electrolytic capacitors. While an 8-phase power design for the CPU might not sound like much compared to the unreasonable phase numbers that we have seen in the past, it is still more than sufficient for any possible scenario. When it comes to cooling, the MOSFET heatsinks are actually kind of puny, but this is a modern all-digital VRM that really doesn't output much heat under normal or even heavy overclocking workloads. As you can see here, there is no heatpipe connecting the two heatsinks, but again that is not really an issue in this case.

Our only area for concern is that there are two capacitors located between the CPU socket and the memory slots that look like they could get in the way of those using exotic cooling options (LN2 pots, Cascade heads, etc), but they won't interfere with any heatsinks or water coolers.

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The four DDR3 memory slots are fed by a standard 2-phase power design, and support overclocked memory frequencies up to DDR3-3400. This might sound pointless, but Haswell Haswell processors are insanely capable at handling high memory frequencies, and who knows what Devil's Canyon or Broadwell will be capable of. Speaking of memory settings, the EZ XMP switch - as its name suggests - allow users to easily auto-enable a memory kit’s XMP profile. The MemOk! button on the other hands initiates a memory compatibility tuning process if there are memory issues preventing a system from booting up. Like on ASUS motherboards, they feature the handy Q-DIMM memory slots, which prevent any clearance issues that can arise between conventional memory clips and the back of any nearby expansion card.

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The M.2 slot is one of the cool new features of the Z97 chipset, and as implemented on this motherboard, it can provide up to 1GB/s of storage bandwidth...if you have a fast enough SSD. This M.2 slot supports both 2260 and 2280 type devices, which is to say SSDs that are 22mm wide and either 60mm or 80mm long. Since this is an all-new it does sound like gibberish, but the M.2 NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor) is a standardized form factor, so don't worry too much about compatibility. Furthermore, like all the Channel Series models it supports M.2 SSDs featuring either SATA and PCI-Express based controllers, ensuring compatibility with the SATA-based M.2 SSDs on the market right now and the higher-performance PCI-E based M.2 models that will arrive later this year. It should be mentioned that the M.2 slot is disabled by default since it shares bandwidth with both of the PCI-E x1 slots. As a result, if you do use the M.2 slot, it will disable those PCI-E x1 slots.

There is an internal front-panel USB 3.0 header, which can be used to connect up to two USB 3.0 ports to the front-panel of any compatible case, and is supplied by the Z97 chipset itself instead of a third-party controller.

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The new round PCH chipset heatsink is definitely one of most eye-catching new designs elements on this motherboard. Although it varies based on the light source, it features a nice subdued gold colour that should help alleviate the distaste people had the previous bright gold heatsinks. Under the heatsink is the new Z97 chipset itself. This may be an engineering sample, we aren't quite sure, but it looks like Intel might have finally learned that laser engraving the die itself hinders the chipset's contact with the heatsink.

While the Z97-A technically has six SATA 6Gb/s ports, two of them are shared with the SATA Express port. Just in case you missed our Chipset Overview, this new high-speed interface is capable of 10GB/s transfer rates. It is not a gigantic leap, but it should help reinvigorate interest in SATA and allow for some very cool new devices. Speaking of which, there are basically zero SATA Express devices that will be available for sale in the near future. Thankfully, ASUS have loaned to us one of their cool Hyper Express enclosures so we can give you a sneak peek at this new interface's performance potential.
 
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MAC

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Location
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A Closer Look at the Z97-A pt.2

A Closer Look at the Z97-A pt.2


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The lower-right corner is where you will find the front panel header - and where you will plug in the Q-Connectors - as well as a variety of switches. The TPU switch - controlled by the TPU microprocessor - gives you manual access and enabling of the TPU auto-overclock feature. The switch has an off position and two selectable overclock presets. The EPU switch can enable or disable the EPU energy-saving feature. These two switches are basically for those who don't want to toy around the BIOS or use Dual Intelligent Processors 5 software utility.

The whole bottom of the motherboard is festooned with various headers, namely three USB 2.0 headers, a system fan header, TPM header, COM port, front-panel audio header, and a handy onboard power switch.

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Haswell processors support 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes for graphics purposes. The first PCI-E x16 slot will operate at full x16 speed when only one graphics card is installed. In in a dual graphics card configuration, the first and second PCI-E x16 slots will operate at the x8 speed (x8/x8). The bottom PCI-E x16 slot is supplied by the Z97 chipset and operates at x2 because ASUS had to divert some PCI-E lanes away from this slot to all the other PCI-E devices on this motherboard. This model has been for certified for 2-way CrossFire and 2-way SLI.

The two old-school PCI slots are courtesy of an ASMedia ASM1083 PCI-E-to- PCI bridge chip, since it's no longer supported at the chipset level. The Z97-A features a user removable BIOS chip, which could come in handy should there be an unexpected BIOS issue.

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As we mentioned before, the only area where there was some evident cost-cutting is in the use of the older Realtek ALC892 8-channel audio CODEC instead of the more modern Realtek ALC1150 chip. The newer CODEC has a superior 115dB Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) playback output compared to the 95dB SNR for the ALC892. Unless you fancy yourself an audiophile, this likely isn’t a huge issue. There is also an electromagnetic interference (EMI) shield covering the Realtek CODEC, and the PCB isolation line surrounds the audio section of the PCB and protects it from the rest of the system. All of this serves to help to preserve the signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio and thus ensure the highest possible sound quality.

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The Z97-A has some solid connectivity options on its rear I/O panel. Starting from left to right, we have a DisplayPort, HDMI port, VGA output, HDMI output, two USB 2.0 ports, a combo keyboard/mouse PS/2 port, two USB 3.0 ports, Intel NIC-powered gigabit LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, and the five audio jacks with an S/PDIF output.

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There are no VRM components on the backside of the motherboard. There are push-pins used for the MOSFET heatsinks and metal screws for the PCH chipset heatsink. Looking at the back of the motherboard gives us a better look at the audio separation line.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation



In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.

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When installed in the East-West or North-South orientation, our Prolimatech Mega Shadow had no issues physically clearing the MOSFET heatsinks, and we don't foresee any obstacles with even the largest of coolers. Having said that, the mounting bracket for our cooler did come awfully close to coming in contact with the MOSFET heatsinks.


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In the traditional North-South orientation, we did however have a clearance issue with the memory modules since the fan clips prevented the installation of our tall memory modules in either of the two memory slots nearest to the CPU socket. The solution to this problem is either to use lower profile memory modules, not to use the fan clips, or to simply install the fan on the other side of the heatsink, thereby blowing hot air to the front of the case instead of the back. Naturally, none of these are ideal solutions.


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Thanks to the expansion slot layout, there is a large gap between memory clips and the back of the graphics card, so there is no need to take out the GPU before installing/removing memory modules. The 24-pin ATX power connector and the 8-pin CPU power connector are both ideally placed, so that makes assembling and disassembling the system just a tad easier.


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This board will hold two dual-slot graphics cards without issue. The cards overhang the motherboard, but the edge-mounted SATA connectors and various headers are still easily accessible. It can even handle two triple-slot graphics if you don't mind losing access to the middle PCI-E x1 slot, one PCI slot, and the bottommost mechanical PCI-E x16 slot. That third PCI-E x16 slot is not for graphics card use since it tops out at PCI-E 2.0 x2, but if you do install a dual-slot expansion card it will block the headers at the very bottom of the motherboards.

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The four 90-degree SATA ports are obviously accessible no matter how many graphics cards are installed, as is the SATA Express port (and its two SATA ports).


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The Prolimatech Mega Shadow's large mounting bracket installed perfectly, but it did come pretty close to a pin from one of the chokes mounted on the top-side of the motherboard.
 
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MAC

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Location
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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown



As you would expect, a new generation of motherboards brings forth a new UEFI bios. Although fundamentally similar to past versions, this new bios has been aesthetically revamped, reorganized, and bolstered with a bunch of new user-friendly features. Furthermore, and perhaps most impressively, this is a very smooth and responsive UEFI BIOS, noticeably better than anything we've experienced in the past. It's not necessarily lightning fast, since there are some deliberate/intentional transition delays when switching between the various sections, but none of the lag and stuttering that we've put up with in most other UEFI BIOS. The UEFI BIOS is divided across two distinct modes. The EZ Mode is simplified and features a mouse-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) for basic tasks, while the Advanced Mode has all the settings, options, and features that you could ever want. From within the EZ Mode you can switch to the Advanced Mode by pressing F7, and vice-versa to get back to the EZ Mode.

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The EZ Mode makes pretty good use of the graphical user interface (GUI) and was designed to be used with a mouse. It obviously does not have all the functionality of the Advanced mode, but it is not meant to. It simply gives novice users an easy way to visualize and alter some of the most common settings. The Q-Fan Tuning feature can be found in both BIOS modes, but fundamentally it gives you full manual or preset-based control over the systems fans. The EZ Tuning Wizard is particularly interesting since it brings overclocking to an even simpler level. Basically, the wizard asks you how you generally use your system, what kind of CPU cooler you have installed, and based on your answer it comes up with an appropriate tuning level for your respective system. It worked perfect during our short time toying with it, and the fact that it never actually mentions "overclocking" should help alleviate some of the fears less knowledgeable users might associate with the word.


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The My Favorites tab is a fairly new addition to the bios. As you might have surmised, it allows you to have all your most useful or most used settings in one place, so you no longer have to search through the whole bios to find what you need time and time again.


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The next tab in the BIOS is the Main section, which displays the standard storage devices and some basic system information. This System Information section lists some rudimentary specification info, including the BIOS date & version, the type of processor and the amount of memory installed. You can also set the system language, and an administrator and/or individual User password.


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Next up is the Ai Tweaker section, which is where all the fun happens. Once the manual option is selected in the Ai Overclock Tuner setting, the BIOS opens up to reveal all of the essential system clock control options: CPU multiplier with an all-core and per-core option, BLCK frequency, CPU strap, memory frequency, memory timing options, and all the voltage options.

The OC Tuner feature allows novice users to automatically overclock their systems without having to mess around with clocks speeds, multipliers, and voltages. The are two options in this feature, a multiplier-only tuning mode or a multiplier and BCLK tuning mode. You can read more about this automatic overclocking feature in our Overclocking Results section.


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As its name suggests, the DRAM Timing Control section is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can select and change all the memory settings, and each memory channel has its own section, from which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It has just about every memory modifier that an enthusiast or overclocker would need to fine-tune their modules. There's really an overabundance of options and it is quite impressive.


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The DIGI+ Power Control section has a whole slew of advanced power regulation settings for the CPU cores, CPU VTT and VCCSA (system agent/memory controller), and DRAM channels. This motherboard is setup well enough so that you should never actually have to tweak any of these settings though, unless you are really pushing the limits with phase-change or LN2 cooling. The exception to this is obviously Load-Line Calibration (LLC), which is a worthwhile feature that eliminates droopage on the CPU vCORE, and which we will take a closer look at in our Voltage Regulation section.

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The Internal CPU Power Management section is where you can enable or disable all the CPU-specific features like SpeedStep and Turbo Mode, as well as setting the Turbo limits. ASUS have really bolstered this section with an overwhelming array of CPU power tuning settings.


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Occupying the middle to bottom section of the Ai Tweaker are the prodigious voltage options. As you would expect, all the key system voltages are present and accounted for, as far as bunch of other voltage options that we have frankly never even seen before. For some of the key voltages like the CPU Core voltage and the CPU Cache voltage, ASUS have allowed four separate entry modes. The Auto and Manual modes are self-evident, the Offset Mode allows you to specify how much higher (or lower) the voltage should be in reference to stock level, so something like +0.10V or +0.15V. The Adaptive Mode allows you to set both a base voltage and higher Turbo Mode voltage that is enabled under heavy system loads. This helps minimize the amount of voltage running through an overclocked processor when it's not under load.

Usually we would now say that we wish there were more drop-down menus in this section. Although can manually type in whatever you want, but that is not particularly useful when you don't know or don’t remember what the default voltages are. Thankfully, ASUS have thought about this, and they have included real-time voltage read outs next to all the key system voltages. This is an fantastic addition and we couldn't be happier to see it here.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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BIOS Rundown pt.2

BIOS Rundown pt.2




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The Advanced tab is where you can enable or disable all the CPU-specific features like the Thermal Monitor, Hyper-Threading, Virtualization, Enhanced SpeedStep, Turbo Mode, C-States, etc.

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The Advanced Tab is also where you can enable/disable or just find all the various settings and options for all the onboard devices like the audio, LAN, USB 3.0, SATA ports, etc.


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The Monitor section contains the anti-surge setting, but is mostly dedicated to monitoring the various voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. This whole section is really quite impressive, it has all the essential temperature and voltage readouts, as well as truly excellent and comprehensive fan control functionality.



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The Boot tab is essentially where you set storage device priority, select the boot drive, enable/disable the full screen logo, and ton of other boot settings that can help with the installation or troubleshooting of various OS installations.


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ASUS EZ Flash 2 is a built-in utility that greatly simplifies the BIOS updating process. You can easily update your BIOS from a ROM file located on your hard drive(s) or USB flash drive(s). It's quick, painless, and it takes the worry out of BIOS flashing.


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The ASUS Overclocking Profile feature gives users the option to save and switch between BIOS profiles, for example an everyday profile and a benchmarking profile. Not only is this infinitely quicker than manually inserting every setting, but the profiles can be saved and shared among other Z97-A owners.


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Before you save your settings and exit the BIOS, there is a handy window that lists the changes you made during this session. It's a well thought out and implemented idea. The new General Help pop-up that you can find in the top-right corner is very handy for those who can't remember all the new function key tasks.
 
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