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Fast And Cheap? Five Sub-$160 Z87 Motherboards For Enthusiasts

Z87-Plus Firmware

While Asus spent a lot of time on its user-configurable UEFI start page, the most interesting settings are still found in the firmware’s Advanced menus. The company prepared a video walk-through that outlines its efforts.

The Asus Ai Tweaker menu offers separate manual and XMP modes, which are virtually identical, except that XMP overclocking mode starts with an XMP-based memory overclock. You can still change memory multiplier and timings, even after enabling an XMP profile.

The Z87-Plus eagerly pushed our CPU to 4.7 GHz at 1.3 V, though we recently discovered that tests heavily optimized for AVX cause thermal throttling at that voltage. Dropping to 1.25 V, the processor was stable at 4.6 GHz.

Because Intel's fourth-gen Core processors don't support 30 x 100 MHz memory ratios, the Z87-Plus configures our XMP-3000 profile using an increased base clock rate paired with a DDR3-2933 ratio (22 x 133 MHz). We eventually topped the memory’s maximum data rate at 1.65 V by reaching DDR3-3021. In the words of Jim Carrey in The Mask, smokin'!

The Z87-Plus adds slightly more than 25 mV to whatever memory voltage setting you specify, so we dropped to 1.625 V. Our meter showed between 1.651 to 1.654 volts after making that change.

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Primary, secondary, and tertiary timings can be individually switched between automatic and manual configuration. We lock in our memory’s primary timings during overclocking tests.

The Haswell architecture's fully integrated voltage regulator makes it impossible to apply traditional CPU load-line calibration. Asus compensates somewhat by adjusting VCCIN. We achieved stability there by choosing the board’s "Level 2" Load-line Calibration setting.

Other overclocking options include Auto OC By Ratio and Auto OC By BCLK. The first method raised our CPU multipliers to 41-42-43-43x (4.1 to 4.3 GHz, depending on utilization) at stock voltage, and picked a data rate of DDR3-2400 at 1.65 V. The second method used a fixed CPU multiplier of 34x and a DRAM multiplier of 20x, with a 125 MHz base clock pushing the CPU core to 4.25 MHz at stock-voltage and DRAM to DDR3-2500 at 1.65 V.

  • InvalidError
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87:
    1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature
    2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets
    3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard
    4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3
    5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87

    More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub.

    I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11349374 said:
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87:
    1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature
    2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets
    3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard
    4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3
    5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87

    More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub.

    I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
    It still saves motherboard makers a lot of money when they don't need to add all those controllers. And it frees up some of those x1 slots. Remember that most users don't use "everything at once" to fill up the DMI, so having the x1 slots available rather than consumed by onboard devices adds flexibility to a build.

    In other words, they might be charging for stuff that should be free or should have been included all the way back in the Z68, but past omission doesn't negate current usefullness.

    Reply
  • DookieDraws
    I am planning a new Haswell build, soon, and I really appreciate the the effort put into this review. Very helpful!

    The market is flooded with tons of these Z87 motherboards and it can be very overwhelming researching them. So, hopefully we'll see a few more Z87 reviews from you guys, soon.

    Would also like to see some powerful i7 builds built around more energy efficient components. That would be very interesting. Hint. :)
    Reply
  • Novuake
    Well FINALLY! A round-up! Now to reading...
    Reply
  • Novuake
    Yeah, I would not be caught dead with a Biostar board. Booo... Interesting that the G45 did not overclock to well, they are usually not the best OCers due to low cost VRMs, thought this would change with Haswell. Hmmm...
    Reply
  • axehead15
    I really think that ASRock has taken a lot of steps to put the naysayers to rest. The amount of features that is on these boards for the cost is incredible.

    Rather surprised that Biostar had such a good board. Maybe it's time to start considering those boards for future builds.
    Reply
  • JPNpower
    Can anybody tell me the true difference between the Asus Z87-A and Z-87 plus, without all the marketing hogwash? I'm confused what the difference is. (woth say $15 extra for the plus?)
    Reply
  • ruisdb
    Can any one comment on the quality of the onboard RAID?
    Reply
  • vertexx
    Trying to pick a winner based strictly on the numbers - tough when the measured numbers have been commoditized to the extent they have. Funny to give in on ASRock based on a temporary price break. I think the feature-set vs. value helps ASRock stand on it's own. I really think there is a good target audience for each of these boards. Pulling that out would be a great analysis.

    It is great to see a round-up of the mainstream boards, though, so thanks!
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    11349464 said:
    It still saves motherboard makers a lot of money when they don't need to add all those controllers. And it frees up some of those x1 slots. Remember that most users don't use "everything at once" to fill up the DMI, so having the x1 slots available rather than consumed by onboard devices adds flexibility to a build.
    Most users don't have enough such devices to fill every port in the first place (how many people need more than two upper-tier SSDs?) but those who might actually "need" and use 6xSATA-6G would be people wanting to do things like RAID0/1/5 with 3-6x SSDs. At 6x SSDs, we would be looking at ~25Gbps peak not counting GbE, USB3 or PCIe devices on the 8x 2.0 lanes.

    Still does not change the fact that the only reason why Intel gets away with charging $10-15 extra for less than $1 worth of features while the DMI bus lacks the bandwidth to properly support them for people who may actually intend to use them is because they have a practical monopoly which allows them to arbitrarily fragment the market so they can artificially inflate prices.

    The main reason most people go with z?7 is the overclock unlock for K-chips. That itself is the biggest joke since it is a completely artificial limitation Intel engineered into their products to enforce co-upselling. As shown with the h87 slip-up, the h87 is perfectly capable of managing multipliers on Haswell K-chips when the K-chip lacks the microcode to enforce the z87 unlock "requirement."

    I don't bother with overclocking so this does not affect me... but it still annoys me on the basis of principles and general dislike for hair-splitting for profit.
    Reply