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ASUS Z97I-PLUS ITX Motherboard Review

AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,270
ASUS’ Z79I PLUS represents a solution to a relatively new problem: how do you cater to the feature expectations of enthusiasts while delivering a motherboard that fits into a diminutive ITX chassis? While larger enthusiast-grand motherboards steal most of the attention, there’s a quickly expanding market for small form factor solutions and ASUS has been at the forefront of their development. Take the Z87-era Maximus VI Impact for example. It is still considered one of the best ITX motherboards available even after the introduction of Z97-based boards like today’s example. Granted, the Z79I PLUS’ goals are a bit more pedestrian when compared against any RoG alternative but that doesn’t mean it won’t satisfy pretty much everyone.

The trick to creating an appealing ITX motherboard is to finely balance features, performance capabilities and the components necessary for sufficient overclocking headroom and shoehorn these into as small an area as possible. All of that has to happen without completely blowing cost out the window. In principle this actually sounds much easier than it really is but ASUS has distilled their engineering down to a precise science. There’s no better example of this mantra than the Z79I PLUS’ price $160 price in relation to the feature set it offers. They even threw in WiFi connectivity through an included antenna.

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The Z79I PLUS is fairly well appointed with features, but as is befitting of an ITX board its compact layout tends to make things a bit cramped which can hamper installation in some cases. There is certainly more than enough space for slightly longer graphics cards without any interference with the SATA ports (though routing the SATA cables from the two supplementary ports over memory modules could look pretty messy) and the all-important MemOK! button for DRAM troubleshooting is perfectly accessible. The inclusion of two chassis fan headers alongside the usual CPU fan control is a welcome addition as well.

Like other ASUS Z97 motherboards the Z97I-Plus makes use of a flat PCH heatsink without any temperature-reducing fins. Since the Z97 is a relatively cool running chipset, this shouldn’t come as a surprise but this flimsy little heatsink uses only two push-pins which results in a uneven application of mounting pressure. Ours was only partially hitting its target area.

For an onboard audio solution ASUS has chosen the decent if not stellar RealTek ALC892 controller. Given the more value orientated nature of this board, bypassing the high end ALC1150 does make sense. ASUS haven’t isolated the audio circuitry like they do on larger boards due to the limited amount of space being offered here but they have opted for extremely high quality Nichicon capacitors.

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The 8-pin power connector is directly located next to the large heatsink and while turned 90° from the typical orientation is easy to use and is clear of obstructions. The same cannot be really said of the single 4-pin CPU fan header and dual 4-pin chassis fan headers which are difficult to access with larger low-slung CPU cooling solutions like Noctua’s NH-L12.

The 24-pin ATX power connector is in its usual spot near the RAM and directly to the left is front panel and audio header. ASUS does include a long Q-Connector which will make installing the proper cables much easier than it otherwise would be. Next to these is the single USB 3.0 front header.

Unlike most ASUS ITX boards where there is always a few millimeter of gap between the RAM slots and the Intel-specified cooler mounting locations around the CPU socket, things are extremely tight here. As we will show in the Installation section this means larger air based CPU cooling solutions may cause issues with some RAM modules. Luckily, the stock Intel heatsink or a single-bay water cooling unit won’t have any problems here.

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One thing we do want to call out is the lack of ASUS’ WiFi Go! module in the I/O area. It has been replaced with a space-hogging Bluetooth / WiFi module which is mounted to an mPCIe connector. Typically that slot would be used for storage duties provided there is enough space (which there isn’t) but instead the Z97’s M.2 slot is positioned…

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…..on the back of the board. This seems like a last minute “we have to put it somewhere” move which just beggars belief given ASUS’ strong track record of class-leading board design. This slot is simply inaccessible and given the tight confines in a typical ITX case, you’ll need to give your system a full frontal lobotomy to install something into it or swap out a dead drive. No thanks.

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There are a few other oddities here as well. While the previous generation Z87I-PLUS boasted six SATA ports, its replacement has only been graced with four. SATA Express, one of the Z97 series’ premier points of differentiation, is completely missing in action as well. It almost makes you wonder if these things will somehow miraculously show up on the more expensive Deluxe version while PLUS buyers are left with the short end of the stick.

Some may look at the SATA ports and wonder why they’re not placed at right angles like on other boards. The simple fact of the matter is that 90° ports take up more horizontal space, something that’s in short supply within most ITX chassis. This placement will actually help installation rather than hinder it.

The lone PCIe 3.0 x16 slot has massive locking lever which seriously comes in handy when trying to maneuver within the tight confines of a small case.

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One of the ASUS Z97I-PLUS’ primary selling points is its power management subsystem. In previous generations of the value-oriented PLUS series never had what we would consider an optimal VRM for overclocking. For example the H78I-PLUS used a pretty underwhelming 3-phase design whereas this version utilizes an all-digital DIGI+ VRM 6-phase power layout consisting of Lower RDS(on) MOSFETs and 5K-hour solid electrolytic capacitors.

The two DDR3 memory slots are also fed by a digital 2-phase power design and support overclocked memory frequencies up to DDR3-3200. This might sound pointless, but Haswell and Devil’s Canyon processors are insanely capable at handling high memory frequencies.

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Turning the board around to the back we can see that the ASUS Z97I-PLUS' rear IO panel is very well appointed. There are four USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, a combination PS/2 keyboard and mouse port. There is also one DVI-D port, one analog D-Sub port, a HDMI port, and a full sized DisplayPort output.

Rounding out the rear IO panel's features are a single Intel 218v powered wired Ethernet connector, a S/PDIF optical out port and the three AUDIO I/O ports. Unfortunately while ASUS have opted for an 8-channel capable controller these three ports make 7.1 configurations impossible through analog connections.
 
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AkG

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5,270
BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


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Quite easily the largest highlight of the ASUS Z97I-PLUS is its BIOS. Just like the Deluxe, and the lower priced A model, it ships with a dual interface BIOS for both beginner and advanced users. While this BIOS may be slightly cut down in its abilities (it uses a 64MB instead of 128MB BIOS IC) both the EZ-Mode and Advanced Mode provide a user experience that is second to none.

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As with the ASUS Z97-Deluxe, ASUS have taken their iconoclastic EZ Mode GUI BIOS and significantly upgraded it. Instead of the almost too simplistic EZ Mode of previous generation this refreshed interface offers the best of both worlds: it's easy use yet has the ability to do moderately complex tasks. To this end it offers most of the features the typical user will need such as fan speed modifiers, boot priority, XMP profiles and system tuning but in a way that is extremely intuitive.

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While this motherboard costs significantly less than ASUS' excellent Z97-Deluxe, the UI is just as responsive and just as smooth. It may not be lightning fast in switching between the various sections but there is never a hint of unintentional lag or stuttering which plague many 'value' motherboards.

The EZ Mode makes pretty good use of the available space 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.


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ASUS' Q-Fan Tuning feature can be found in both BIOS modes and 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 the system is generally used, 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. In practice it did exactly what it promised to do and the fact that it never actually mentions "overclocking" should help alleviate some of the stigmas some might associate with the word.

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The Advanced Mode is just that; it's for advanced users and contains much more in the way of abilities but thanks to an intuitive layout and interface it is very easy to navigate..

The very first tab in the Advanced Mode is the My Favorites which allows you to customize what's displayed to your heart's content. In our opinion, and with just a little bit of effort, this page is the only one users will ever need.

The next tab in the BIOS is the Main section, which displays the standard storage devices and some basic system information. The System Information section lists rudimentary specification info including the BIOS date and 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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Just to the right of the Main section is the perennial favorite Ai Tweaker area. If you plan on overclocking your system at all, this section is where the majority of your time will be spent. 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.

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The DRAM Timing Control screen contains a very good list of memory timing modifier options that is rarely seen on such inexpensive boards. There is even a Memory Presets subpage which has a huge variety of memory default settings available and as long as you have an idea of the chips used in your modules, these are perfect starting points for optimization.
 
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AkG

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BIOS Rundown pg.2

BIOS Rundown pg.2


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Thanks to its use of the Digi+ controller this relatively inexpensive board actually includes a full array of power management options under the ' DIGI+ Power Control' section. As the name implies this 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.

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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In the Advanced tab there are a number of configuration sub screens for CPU, PCH, SATA, System Agent, USB, Onboard Devices, APM and Network Stack. The Advanced Tab is also where you can enable/disable or just find all the various settings and options for the onboard devices like the audio, LAN, USB 3.0, SATA ports, etc.

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The Monitor section contains system temperature/power status, and adjustable fan settings. Fan speeds are customizable based on a number of parameters and there are additional preset profiles included in the BIOS. 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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The tool tab gives you access to numerous built-in tools that allow for everything from selecting which BIOS profile to use to flashing your BIOS.

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As with previous ASUS motherboards, before you save your settings and exit the BIOS, there is a handy window that lists the changes you made during this session. It is 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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AkG

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Included Software

Included Software


After working closely with the new and improved AI Suite III that came with the Z97-Deluxe we can honestly say that ASUS’ new software is easily the best, and easiest tuning utility around. It is no exaggeration to say that it makes the last generation’s AI Suite look kludgey and outdated in comparison. The new 5 way optimization is a particular standout in this respect. However, the Z97I-PLUS uses a slightly more simplified version of AI Suite III since it lacks the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 feature of higher end boards.

For all intents and purposes this board ships with the same AI Suite 3 program that was included with the last generation Z87 series motherboards from ASUS. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t up to the task of exerting a tremendous amount of control over the PLUS. Rather, this AI Suite simply uses a more straightforward interface but lacks certain advanced capabilities. ASUS’ software is still light years ahead of competing solutions.

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The TurboV EVO page is for folks who have a basic knowledge of overclocking but don’t want to enter the BIOS. Here you will find the basic requirements for overclocking and tweaking which includes 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 individual cores or locking so all cores together while the bottom area houses sensor readouts for voltages, temperatures and fan speeds.

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The aptly called Auto Tuning, is a great spot for beginners since it enables one button automatic overclocking as well as automatic fan speed and power optimization. However this application will not automatically overclock your RAM or Uncore speed and will simply use your RAM's built-in Intel XMP profile. It did however get a stable 4.5GHz overclock on our 4770K, which equals the Maximus VI Impact’s performance.

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The DIGI+ Power Control section contains adjustable settings for VRM voltage and frequency modulation to enhance reliability and stability. For memory there are adjustable settings for DRAM current capability, DRAM voltage frequency, and DRAM power phase control.

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Also included in the AI Suite III is ASUS Fan Xpert 3 which happens to be a very good fan tuning utility that not only includes numerous presets but also has a full adjustable mode for every fan attached to the motherboard. In this case that means custom tuning settings can be made for up to 3 individual fans (2 chassis + 1 CPU).

The EPU section contains power saving options with subpages titled High Performance, Max Power Saving, and Away Mode which allows 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.


Boot Setting

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ASUS Boot Setting utility gives users the ability to boot directly into the BIOS without having to mash delete on the POST screen. It also includes an Advanced section for customization of fast boot settings including how the system will react after a power outage.


WebStorage

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The WebStorage utility is basically the ASUS equivalent of DropBox. It is a cloud computing application that gives users web storage and access to data across many devices. All ASUS motherboard owners get 5.5GB of storage for free, you can buy more or be gifted some by ASUS if you refer your friends. The web interface is pretty standard and utilitarian but there isn’t much to complain about and it's a nice freebie if you choose to use it.


Turbo LAN

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Turbo LAN is designed to help reduce latency courtesy of cFosSpeed traffic-shaping technology. This utility provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, NPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program. It also allows you to give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic.
 
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AkG

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the ASUS Z97I-PLUS, we installed a Noctua NH-U12S, a 16GB dual channel kit of G.Skill Trident X memory, and a PNY GTX 780 XLR8 OC video card. The NH-U12 is a moderate sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference for other heatsinks. However, we also have to remember that anyone using this in a smaller ITX case (most higher end ITX cases are compatible with this cooler) will use suitably sized cooling products but many of those are low-slung and some actually have a larger footprint than the U12S.

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Even taking into consideration the fact that this is an mITX motherboard the fact remains ASUS cut things very, very close when it comes to RAM slot placement. The slots are actually skirting the very edge of Intel's no go zone for CPU coolers. This in turn makes using larger coolers a bit tough and RAM coolers impossible. Even with a relatively thin air based CPU cooling solution the fan will slightly push against the innermost RAM slot unless you push it up high on the fin array.

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On the positive side, our Noctua NH-U12S had no major issues physically clearing the MOSFET heatsink, and we don't foresee any obstacles with even the largest of coolers. Also on the positive side it will not take a take a contortionist to install all four mounting bolts, though the amount of room between the bolts and the MOSFET heatsink is slim to say the least.

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Switching from air to water cooling proved much more uneventful as there is just enough room between the waterblock and its adjacent components. Once again the gap is small and larger water blocks could be a tricky proposition, but installing a typically designed block should prove to be a much easier proposition than installing a tower cooler.

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With only 170x170mm of room to work with there was only so much ASUS could do to optimize space and it came as no surprise that the single PCI-E slot is rather close to the RAM slots and SATA ports. Thankfully the tabs on the RAM slots closest to the PCIe slot are tabless and as such manipulating memory modules doesn’t require movement of the video card.

Unfortunately, because the SATA ports are vertical instead of the typical horizontal you may want to first uninstall the video card before trying the installing a new drive. There is simply not enough room for large fingers to 'fit' between the RAM and the video card to ensure the SATA cable is secure.

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Our PNY 780 XLR8 OC had no problem fitting on this motherboard, though there may be some issues in smaller ITX cases. As an added bonus (and unlike most mITX motherboards) this inexpensive I-Plus model comes with what is easily the best retention mechanism we have seen on a mITX motherboard. Yes it does take up a lot of real estate but it is worth it. You never need blindly grope for a hidden leaver.
 
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AkG

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Test System & Testing Methodology

Test System & Testing Methodology


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

Stock Turbo Boost - To represent a 4770K at stock with turbo enabled.

Software OC - To represent a Z97I-Plus at best proven stable overclock achieved via included software based overclocking (4.5GHz).

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 (4.6GHz).

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.

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
Tomb Raider
BioShock Infinite


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.


To ensure consistent results, a fresh installation of Windows 8.1 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 1301 and the Nvidia drivers used were version 332.21.

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<w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="63" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Shading 1 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="64" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Shading 2 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="65" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium List 1 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="66" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium List 2 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="67" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 1 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="68" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 2 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="69" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 3 Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="70" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Dark List Accent 4"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="71" 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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:15.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif";} </style> <![endif]-->
Our test setup consists of an Intel Haswell 4770K, ASUS Deluxe Z97 motherboard, one NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 video card, 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 EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 P2 1000 watt PSU.

For cooling we used a Corsair H105 AIO w/ four 140mm 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# 3335B824
Memory: 16GB GSkill 2166 Trident X 9-11-11-31 1.6v
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Hard Drive: 1x 180GB Intel 335 SSD. Western Digial Black 1TB.
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 P2
CPU Cooler: Corsair H105 AIO

Special thanks to EVGA for their support and supplying the SuperNOVA 1000 P2.
Special thanks to G.Skill for their support and supplying the Trident X RAM.
Special thanks to NVIDIA for their support and supplying the GTX 780
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
Feature Testing: Audio & Wireless Performance

Feature Testing: Audio & Wireless Performance


Feature Testing: Onboard Audio


<i> While the ASUS Z87 Deluxe is mainly orientated towards mainstream consumers, the upgraded onboard audio is one of its main selling features. As such, it behooves us to see exactly what this upgrade brings to the table. To do this we have used RightMark Audio Analyzer.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/thd.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/dr.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/noise.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

The saving grace of this board's onboard audio is the fact that the Z97I-Plus is a very inexpensive motherboard in amongst much more expensive options. We would have been truly surprised if the results had shown the I-Plus higher in the charts. The simple fact is if you want deluxe quality expect to pay 'Deluxe' prices. Ironically though, it does surpass the performance from a typical onboard solution.


Feature Testing: 802.11AC Wireless


<i>As with the included onboard audio, the included 802.11AC wireless abilities of the ASUS Z87 Deluxe is one of its main selling features. To see exactly how good this 802.11AC upgrade brings to the table we have used some of our standard wireless testing scenarios. These tests include both real world file transfer performance and real world signal performance. The router used was an Asus RT-AC68U 'AC1900' router.

To test signal strength we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC. For real world testing we have taken 10GB worth of small file and large file mixture and pushed from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. Testing will be done via MS RichCopy. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/24_real.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/24_sig.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/50_real.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/50_sig.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

It comes as no surprise to see the ASUS Z97I-PLUS come in with solid middle of the pack results here. Including WiFi on a value-oriented ITX board is a great choice but we can't expect bleeding edge performance.
 
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AkG

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Feature Testing: Software Auto-Overclocking

Feature Testing: Software Auto-Overclocking


Let's begin with the obvious: the Z97I-PLUS hasn’t been designed with overclocking in mind but it can handle increased clock speeds without with ease. With that being said, its version of AI Suite III is quite a bit more simplified than what we typically find on Deluxe and RoG series products but it runs just as well and, as we mentioned before, is very novice-friendly.

ai-10_550.jpg

Obviously some of the advanced features simply cannot be implemented on this board because it lacks the advanced hardware housed in the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 feature set. These capabilities are necessary to make ASUS’ signature '5 Way Optimization' work.

Back to the matter at hand we have a relatively simplistic approach to software auto overclocking that provides doesn’t really provide any useful feedback about what it is doing. Instead of telling you step by step and showing you what it does or how an overclock is achieved. The software simply asks you to choose between multiplier-only or-BCLK type clock speed modifications, reboots, does its “magic”, and then completes the process.

There were some oddities throughout testing as well. The first time we ran this program it stated 4.4GHz was the best it could accomplish while the second and third runthroughs resulted in 4.5GHz. While odd, a disparity of 100MHz isn’t anything to be worried about considering that 4.5GHz overclock was fully stable; something we cannot say of some other manufactures’ automatic overclocking software.

While we understand that a lot of what we so loved about the Z97 Deluxe simply cannot be translated to the Z97I-Plus, the limitations don’t preclude some inter-generational improvements. For example being able to customize the maximum temperature allowed would be an excellent upgrade and requires no additional hardware. So too would adding the ability to set the stability test’s length which seems to be far too short to guarantee long term stability. Including some form of automatic fan speed modification would also be a welcome addition.

soft_oc_sm.jpg

There may be some very basic critiques against this version of AI Suite but it nonetheless achieved a stable 4.5GHz overclock on all four cores. That’s pretty impressive coming from a value-oriented ITX motherboard. Unfortunately, uncore speed isn’t touched and memory clocks are simply increased by enabling their XMP profile. Overall this is still above average for the Z97I-PLUS’ price range, but we had hoped that some changes would have been implemented for the Z97 platform.
 
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AkG

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Manual Overclocking

Manual Overclocking


After our recent experience with the ASUS Z97 Deluxe there were some high hopes for this motherboard, even though it is part of a lightly lower end series. As with all current ASUS motherboards, the Z97I-Plus has an excellent BIOS which is a pleasure to use and more than enough options for basic overclocking. There are some higher end features missing but there’s no way they should be included on an non-RoG ITX board anyways.

The actual approach to overclocking here is quite basic with the ability to boot directly to the BIOS being one of the highlights as the clock speed is being dialed in. However that is getting ahead of ourselves. Let's start at the beginning and then work through all the features this board offers to enthusiasts. Just remember, being a budget-minded ITX board, the PLUS goes without features like onboard restart / power buttons and even does without a reset CMOS button. All of these items make overclocking quite a bit easier - particularly if you are someone who dials in your overclock with the board outside a case- but likely won’t be overly missed by this board’s target audience.

man_oc_sm.jpg

There were however some problems right off the bat. When we powered up the system what greeted us was nothing other than an infinite reboot loop prior to the board POSTing to BIOS. Apparently, the Z97I-PLUS did not like our choice of RAM. Thankfully, after about two dozen hard shut-downs the onboard Mem-OK! button actually decided to do something and we were able to boot into the BIOS and immediately upgrade to the latest firmware. This took care of that problem, so we then commenced our overclocking 'adventure' and to be fair it wa smooth sailing from this point on….mostly.

While the BIOS is a more than willing participant (it really is that good), the 6 phase power subsystem may be a touch lacking for any extreme clock speed increases without higher end cooling solutions like DICE, a TEC or LN2. It does get the job done, but we did notice some voltage variances at higher levels and in order to get 4.7GHz we would have had to boost voltage levels higher than we felt were advisable. Considering the heat output at 4.7GHz was really too much for our cooling solution it came as no surprise to see the system start to throttle during stability testing. The only solution was to downgrade to a 4.6GHz overclock.

We completely understand and are fully aware of the realities of ITX board design and this PLUS’ cost eliminates the possibility for ASUS’ handy 8-phase daughter card. As it stands 4.6GHz is decent for our CPU, especially considering we were easily able to pair it to our usual 4.4GHz uncore speed. This did result in a very fast - but stable – system; one which easily matches full-sized boards.

Put simply dialing in our RAM (even with known modules) was an exercise in patience. Compared to most motherboards it did take a lot more effort and a ton of reboots to get the memory stable. It was only by increasing voltage a touch more than usual that we were able to get our typical DDR3-2400 frequency. Our extended game of trial and error may have been the result of ASUS still trying to dial in compatibility as evidenced by our initial issues.

bclk.jpg

If you are interested in the more difficult BCLK overclocking, this motherboard was about average with our processor. We were able to hit with quite a bit of effort 171.34MHz and while not the highest we have achieved, this result is pretty decent all things considered.

Taken as a whole this motherboard is certainly not what we would classify as enthusiast grade but it isn’t meant to be. Given the relatively low asking price and relative immaturity of the BIOS, we really couldn’t have asked for more. Obviously if you are interested in manual overclocking this motherboard will present a challenge (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but for the average consumer the software overclocking features are more than enough to satisfy their needs.
 
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AkG

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System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


In the System Benchmarks section we will show a number benchmark comparisons of the 4770K and using the stock speed (turbo enabled), highest stable software overclock of 4.5Ghz and our manual overclock(4.6GHz). This will illustrate how much performance can be gained by the various overclocking options this board has to offer.

For reference the CPU speeds, memory speeds, memory timings, and uncore speeds used for these tests are as follows:

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/results.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


SuperPI Benchmark


<i>SuperPi calculates the number of digits of PI in a pure 2D benchmark. For the purposes of this review, calculation to 32 million places will be used. RAM speed, RAM timings, CPU speed, L2 cache, and Operating System tweaks all effect the speed of the calculation, and this has been one of the most popular benchmarks among enthusiasts for several years.
SuperPi was originally written by Yasumasa Kanada in 1995 and was updated later by snq to support millisecond timing, cheat protection and checksum. The version used in these benchmarks, 1.5 is the official version supported by hwbot.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/PI.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


CINEBENCH R11.5


<i>CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation.
In this system benchmark section we will use the x64 Main Processor Performance (CPU) test scenario. The Main Processor Performance (CPU) test scenario uses all of the system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral "No Keyframes" animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects which in turn contain more than 300,000 polygons in total, and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights, shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. The result is displayed in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/cine.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


Sandra Processor Arithmetic & Processor Multi-Media Benchmarks


<i>SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. The software suite provides most of the information (including undocumented) users like to know about hardware, software, and other devices whether hardware or software. The name “Sandra” is a (girl) name of Greek origin that means "defender", "helper of mankind".
The software version used for these tests is SiSoftware Sandra 2013 SP3. In the 2013 version of Sandra, SiSoft has updated operating system support, added support for Haswell CPUs, as well as added some new benchmarks to the testing suite. The benchmark used below is the Processor Arithmetic benchmark which shows how the processor handles arithmetic and floating point instructions. This test illustrates an important area of a computer’s speed.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/sis.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


PCMark 8 Benchmark


<i>Developed in partnership with Benchmark Development Program members Acer, AMD, Condusiv Technologies, Dell, HGST, HP, Intel, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Samsung, SanDisk, Seagate and Western Digital, PCMark 8 is the latest version in FutureMark’s popular series of PC benchmarking tools. Improving on previous releases, PCMark 8 includes new tests using popular applications from Adobe and Microsoft.

The test used in below is the PCMark 8 Home benchmark. This testing suite includes workloads that reflect common tasks for a typical home user such as for web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The results are combined to give a PCMark 8 Home score for the system.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/pcm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


AIDA64 Benchmark


<i>AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a diagnostic and benchmarking software suite for home users that provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives.

The benchmarks used in this review are the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks. Memory bandwidth benchmarks (Memory Read, Memory Write, Memory Copy) measure the maximum achievable memory data transfer bandwidth. The code behind these benchmark methods are written in Assembly and they are extremely optimized for every popular AMD, Intel and VIA processor core variants by utilizing the appropriate x86/x64, x87, MMX, MMX+, 3DNow!, SSE, SSE2, SSE4.1, AVX, and AVX2 instruction set extension.
The Memory Latency benchmark measures the typical delay when the CPU reads data from system memory. Memory latency time means the penalty measured from the issuing of the read command until the data arrives to the integer registers of the CPU.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/mem.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z97I-Plus/lat.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>
 

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