Introduction – ASUS Z87-A
When new chipset launches happen all of the attention is given to the big boys of the group or the high end behemoth that is the top clocking boards. All the while, there is a whole bunch of other boards that may not have all of the bells and whistles or the LN2 overclocking trickery, but are just as capable when being put to the test in a high end gaming rig. Many enthusiasts can be some what snobbish when it comes to hardware, us included. We want the biggest, the baddest, and the best. The only problem is that the best comes with a hefty price tag, so we like to look at what mainstream performers can offer. Some of these boards hold huge promise for even a nice overclocked rig. Today we are looking at the ASUS Z87-A board which is one of the most mainstream and basic boards that ASUS offers for the Z87 stack. However, that doesn’t mean it is any less capable, as it has plenty of the same features and functionality of boards priced significantly higher.
The Z87-A comes to market with a street price of $144.99 directly from Newegg at the time of writing. This places it at a super competitive segment of the market for boards that support dual SLI or CrossfireX, with most boards being right around the same price. Now let’s see what the Z87-A offers that makes it worth your purchase over the others in this price category.
Here you can see the general overlay of the board and all of the different features it offers. One thing about ASUS boards is that sometimes all of the features cannot be expressed visually as it all will come down to tuning and the real feel you get when using the board, so we will cover that more in the performance/conclusion area.
ASUS 5X Protection
ASUS always adds new and interesting features with each new board/chipset launch. The Z87 is no different and with the Z87 mainstream lineup they include what is referred to as 5x protection.
On the above you can see some of the key features of the 5X protection features.
- DRAM Overcurrent Protection – This is an inclusion of a fuse inline for the DRAM to prevent overcurrent spikes from reaching the DIMMs, which can cause costly system damage and downtime.
- ASUS Digital Power Design – This includes the ASUS DIGI+ design which as we have seen before is a very stable and efficient power solution as you will notice it has not changed a whole lot over many generations (except changes necessary for architecture compatibility).
- ASUS ESD Guards – ASUS has included special ESD circuits in the ASUS boards which help ensure that when stray static shocks reach the board they can be absorbed with a lesser chance of damaging critical components.
- Stainless Steel Back I/O – The stainless steel back IO is the boxes which hold the rear I/O component ports and employing a corrosion free stainless steel material means that the IO portion will stay corrosion free and in much better working condition for much longer than standard steel.
- ASUS 5K Hour Caps – This stands for the uptime you can expect from these specially made caps at 105C, and we all know that your PC will not see 105C very often (if ever) so with a more realistic but still very extreme temp figure the rating will jump up to an expected 50,000 hours and since most chassis temps see around 30-35C figure that time will even be longer. That means you can expect the components and board life to be very long, probably longer than you would ever use it.
Here you can see the Network iControl software which is part of the ASUS Suite which allows you to monitor and even allocate bandwidth or even automatically allocate bandwidth with an automatic algorithm designed to give priority to key applications and tasks to ensure your downloads and other tasks are not slowed down by other non essential network traffic.
ASUS Fan Xpert 2
As you can see the Fan Xpert 2 utility is back and it is still an amazing application with now even a better cleaner interface within the AISuite Utilities. The ability to auto tune the fans by running through a test ramping each fan to its maximum to find where each fan can go and then it automatically profiles each fan to allow for optimized noise/airflow conditions based on thermals within the case.
New UEFI BIOS
The Z87 boards also ushered in some new tweaks to the UEFI which definitely can be seen as a good move with some very neat small improvements in the features front but also some great performance tweaks as well.
- Quicknote – Quicknote is used to allow notations within the BIOS that will be saved so that if you had something you were working on while tweaking you can always go back to these digital notes as a reference point.
- Last Modified – This is a button you can click on which brings up a box showing all setting changes within the UEFI so that you can retrace steps back to change something should the overclock or performance go awry.
- UEFI Shortcuts & My Favorites – This allows you to choose specific settings as shortcuts or favorites and at that point you will have a main screen with just the shortcuts you selected so that you don’t have to dig through all of the menus to get to all of the various settings you may use most prominently.
- EZ Mode – This is the simple graphical interface which is super easy to navigate yet offers most of the basic tuning and functionality of the main BIOS without all of the separate tabs in the Advanced section.
- SATA Port Renaming – This is a pretty neat feature as you can rename SATA ports to whatever you need them to be to make them easier to identify with a quick glance.
The new NFC protocol definitely has been getting some attention as of late due to the easy touchless syncing mainly among audio devices and the sort with mobile phones.
Well ASUS saw some potential in NFC and they made a NFC pod usable to allow easy PC login, file transfer or even RDC with a mobile device by simply tapping a NFC enabled device to the NFC pod which will be connected to the ASUS Motherboard.
The NFC Express accessory pod can be purchased separately to use with any 8 series board but if you happen to pick up the Z87 Deluxe Dual board it will come pre bundled with it.
Overview of the ASUS Z87-A
The packaging is fairly docile but eye catching as it has a techie feel to it but otherwise like most ASUS boards most of the front is taken by the product name and an array of feature icons to show what the board supports.
The rear of the package has more extensive details of supported features and benefits they offer.
Click Image For a Larger One
- SATA Cables
- Qconnect front panel connectors
- IO Shield
- SLI Ribbon Cable
- Installation disc
- Owners Manual
The accessories for this board are basic and get the job done for getting everything connected and running. For a board of this value you really cannot expect a huge accessory package as that would only increase costs.
- 2x USB 2.0 Ports
- PS2 Combo Port
- Mini Displayport
- Optical SPDIF Connector
- HDMI Port
- D-Sub Connector
- DVI Connector
- 4x USB 3.0 ports
- Realtek Gigabit (10/100/1000) LAN Port
- 8 channel Realtek ALC 892 powered audio connections
The rear IO Connectivity is nice and offers an array of display connectivity options along with high Speed USB 3.0 and pretty much covers all of the bases here.
- 2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
- 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x2 mode)
- 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
- 2 x PCI
This allows for dual cards at x8 for SLI or crossfire at x8 PCIe Gen 3 from the CPU while also offering 4 more PCIe Gen 2 lanes with two x1 slots and another mechanical x16 slot that offers x2 PCIe lanes electrically which would be good for such things like HBAs or audio cards which is fed directly from the PCH.
Memory support is standard for Z87 with four slots supporting up to a tested 32 and even up to 64GB should you find 16GB DIMMS and speeds in excess of 3000MHz shoudl you feel the need to tweak and do some overclocking.
SATA support is Z87 all the way with six total SATA ports from the PCH all of which support up to 6G SATA speeds. We did find it kind of strange that instead of going with three sets of dual SATA ports instead ASUS opted for a single block of dual SATA ports and four individual ports mounted on the board. This actually might be a neat idea as anyone who has had a large GPU installed and trying to install a SATA cable in the ports below.
ASUS has completely redesigned the AISuite Software with the AISuite III software. A completely new user interface is now available and with that comes a much smoother function.
Overall the AISuite III software has been completely reworked for a cleaner looking interface. As you can see there is a lot more information available in each section as the upper screen gives you the controls of the section you are in, and the bottom area can be tabbed through. At the bottom, you also have a load of different monitoring areas to cycle through and help you see exactly how your board is behaving in real time. Also this is a significant change so it may take you a few minutes to figure out where everything is at but in the end it is quite easy once you get the hang of it as the system has changed from a selector bar or taskbar driven software to a larger screen driven software.
Turbo VCore is a super lite program made for quick and easy board tuning within the OS. We have seen many companies starting to realize that their included software is a bit too much or a bit too heavy for users who need a super light easy to load program that also loads quickly as being on the ragged edge overclocking you cannot wait for a huge program to load just to make a quick change.
The Turbo VCore program is just this and it fits the bill nicely as it loads very fast and load or overhead on the system is very small which is exactly what you need when running in such extreme conditions.
The BIOS of the ASUS Z87′s still carries the same fluidity that the Z77 and Z68′s carried as ASUS has done very well on the overall UEFI code which means the only think they have really needed to add was updates based on features or tuning of the board. ASUS did add some very interesting features which we think will help some users especially those who like to tweak their boards and try to squeeze a bit more performance from them. The ability to take notes within the BIOS is very cool, although we just use a pen and paper. One bit of advice–always be sure to back up your notes with screenshots (F12) or a hard copy on paper, as a BIOS update that goes deep enough could clear those notes, and all your information would be lost.
Another neat feature would be the Last Modified section which basically just logs any changes you made in the BIOS so that if you run into an issue you can go back and look at what your changes were all dated and with a timestamp so that you can revert changes and test again without starting over. This is an interesting feature and we are not saying everyone will use it, but for the target audience of this board (enthusiasts and overclockers) we think it could ultimately be very useful.
Another cool addition is the My Favorites page which allows you to earmark certain settings within the BIOS to be placed on this page where you can go to and have access to your most commonly used settings without having to go through all of the other settings as there are quite a lot on this board.
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear pre-fetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
One thing to note is that we are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to you guys the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. Please feel free to provide feedback on what you think as many benchmarks will be shuffled or removed completely.
|Case||Thermaltake Level 10 GT|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-4770K|
|Ram||Gskill TridentX 2666MHz|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-220 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western DIGItal Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||ASUS GTX680 Top|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower XT 1275W Platinum|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black gaming mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 mechanical gaming keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the Motherboard
|SuperPi Mod 1.5|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0|
|Batman Arkham City|
|Sniper Elite V2|
The Z87 Platform is a totally different animal in terms of overclocking here. The Haswell Processor (4770K in this case) can run very hot when clocking which means you gotta have some good cooling if your pushing the limits. Luckily for us, we have access to everything up to LN2 to test with but in reality as most users reading this will never venture that far past liquid cooling we try to keep it rather pedestrian in comparison with a custom 240mm radiator liquid cooling setup. It has worked very well with SB, SB-E, IVB and so on, but we must say Haswell definitely put it to the test.
The easiest and most common way to raise the clockspeed for the CPU on a Kseries chip will be the multiplier. By simply tweaking CPU Vcore up a bit and upping the multiplier to 46, we got our comparison speed which this board did with relative ease. We were quite surprised that one of the most entry level boards could yield a fully stable high overclock within minutes of starting up. This is something that shows how ASUS optimizes not just the top end boards but the platform as a whole to ensure that all boards have the same capability, although it may take a bit more tuning or tweaking to reach such clocks on the more mainstream boards, as they are not out of the box tuned with profiles to easily set extreme clocks.
Memory is something that Haswell does very well and we can say with certainty that the Z87-A is no slouch, pulling our Patriot Viper 2400MHz speed up to 3000MHz while keeping timings very tight, which is quite a feat.
Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure. Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.
The temperatures were recorded with RealTemp while running wPrime 1024 right before the end of the 5th run. The results were recorded carefully. After the results were recorded, we waited for 30 minutes before taking Idle temperature measurements. The results were as follows:
|CPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS Z87-A OC (4.6GHz)||33C/71C|
|Chipset Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS Z87-A OC (4.6GHz)||36C/44C|
The reason temps may look a little lower than seen elsewhere online is that wee are using a custom liquid cooling loop compliments of Swiftech which helps us reach an area of much higher headroom for overclocking and performance testing.
The power consumption was tested while running Wprime 1024 for a few minutes at stock settings. The results were recorded carefully with a Kill-A-Watt power consumption measuring tool at the wall. After the results were recorded, we waited for yet another few minutes minutes before taking Idle power consumption measurements.
The power consumption is measured without a GPU installed but the iGPU loaded to see what the best representation of peak power consumption you can expect. Notice that it looks like some of the ASUS optimizations pay off here as this board even pulls less power than the Intel reference board which is very basic to begin with.
Here you can see that even on the entry model the deep level tuning is very good and nets great results from this board which is actually not far off from the top end Maximus boards while costing significantly less.
Here you can see that once again the platform is virtually siilar with only a percent or two difference which means for anyone looking for a good gaming rig could definitely pull off a nice system at a great value.
The Maximus board gains a little ground here as the Z87-A simply does not have the tuning for such benchmarks in pace and therefore you lose a few percent here but all in all not a huge loss.
WPrime is similar to Superpi, but is multi core aware and you can set the core count. We used 8 cores to take advantage of the 4770K’s HyperThreading ability. Here the Z87-A easily comes within a small percent of the top boards which shows even under ehavy workloads this board can do the job very well.
“CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer’s performance capabilities. MAXON 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. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based). The resulting values among different operating systems are 100% comparable and therefore very useful with regard to purchasing decision-making. It can also be used as a marketing tool for hardware vendors or simply to compare hardware among colleagues or friends.”
Transcoding has become more popular now and the latest Sandy Bridge processor added support for AVX instruction for faster video transcoding. With that you can see that going from Ivy Bridge to Haswell can net you some very good gains, especially a 2FPS gain on 2 Pass. This tells us that overall optimizations to the new platform are present and working very well.
TrueCrypt is a real world application that gives a good indication of the true performance of our latest processor. Here the new Core i7 4770K puts some definite room between itself and the outgoing 3770K with over a 22% performance increase, which means in the same time you can get a lot more work done.
Unigine Heaven 4.0
Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.
Unigine Heaven on a discrete GTX 680 gains about a single FPS, probably just due to the expanded performance with the overclock. For the most part, however, recent platforms are so efficient that there simply is no bottleneck for current gen card models.
Once again, Metro 2033 shows that discrete GPU performance is relatively unaffected, simply due to the fact that there is already so much unused bandwidth available.
Batman Arkham City
Discrete GPU results once again hover without huge movement as the bandwidth is unsaturated for PCIe 3.0.
Sniper Elite V2
The overall trend here is the same as for the other discrete GPU results, with only slight differentiation depending on the specific board tuning.
Our Final Thoughts
ASUS always pushes the limits on its top end boards but getting a mainstream board can sometimes be a snore fest. We are happy to say that this board definitely surprised with its capability and its ability to do pretty much everything a higher priced board could do in terms of performance. It does of course lack some extra features, but it also comes at a lower cost.
Knowing now that the clock for clock performance is within a few percentage points of the top end board, we can definitely say that this board would be excellent on any gaming rig, or even a standard home desktop or workstation. One thing to keep in mind is that every board or component has its place. For those who need a board that simply plugs in and works, but is still capable of some overclocking and gaming, this board is a great choice. Just be aware that it lacks some of the fancier features you find on higher end boards. If those features are important to you, a something like a Z87-powered ROG board would be a better fit.
All in all, this board is basic from a feature standpoint, but a good choice for users who simply need a board that works and will do the job. This board will exceed expectations as the performance at default is great, as is the potential for easy overclocking and power savings for an ultimate budget platform.