Introduction – ASUS Z87-PRO
ASUS along with its ROG boards also released the more mainstream channel series of boards one of which we actually looked at already in the Z87-A. The color seems to be the big topic in the community and for good reason since ECS did a similar gold coloring on the heatsinks and components for Z77 and it did not go over well but ASUS decided to throw their hat into the ring with the god coloring in an apparent effort to symbolize the “Gold Standard” and while I’ve never been a big fan of gold I do think in the right system it could look nice or in a build where a window and appearance are not as important as the function. For me its all about performance but I think that also has to do with my inherent inability to make a pretty system so I just dont care. With that said we are looking at the Z87-Pro today which is the higher featured big brother to the Z87-A I had looked at before. With that lets take a look at what the PRo has to offer
The Z87-Pro comes to market with a street price of $209.99 directly from Newegg at the time of writing. This places it in the higher end of the mainstream market and directly in line with some of the higher end boards from competing manufacturers, with that lets take a look at what it has to offer.
Here you can see a quick overlook of many of the boards main features. This shows everything this board has to offer and also shows many of the supported items as well. especially things such as the WiFi inclusion which is a huge plus in the modern wireless culture.
4 Way Optimization
ASUS has implemented a new “4 Way Optimization” feature in many of the new 8 series boards.
The 4 way optimization refers to the complete support structure within the board in relation to all around tuning, not just performance or power savings but now a complete package.
With a single click the 4 way optimization will kick in and optimize the entire cooling/power/overclock and VRM tuning for the ultimate solution without alot of overclocking or tuning knowledge. This is a plus for most users as I myself can tune a system very well but many users simply want a solution they can plug in and game or do whatever they may do from surfing YouTube to Facebook and candy crush. But if your getting a board why would you not tune it up to be the best it can be including optimizations to power savings since thats free money saving from your electric bill monthly which in this tight economy I cannot see as being a bad feature.
Also improvement to the TPU unit with a two step switch now in place to allow standard mode, then step one is a ratio boost and step two would be a BCLK plus ratio boost for even better OC improvement up to 4.25+GHz
Power savings come by way of power optimizations but also cutting power to unused ports to allow even more power savings.
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 allow overcurrent spikes to not reach the DIMMS and cause costly system damage which could otherwise take your system down for an extended time and even have costly replacement results.
- ASUS Digital Power Design – This includes the ASUS DIGI+ design which as we have seen before is a very stable and efficint power solution as you will notice it has not changed a whole lot over many generations now except the necessary changes to be better compatible or perform better with specific platform architecture changes.
- 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 a standard steel components which when in the harsher climates can definitely be having a bad day very quickly and when rusted or corroded can cause failures of the ports or components.
- 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 or 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. And 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.
WiFi GO! has been something that ASUS has had for some time and has refined it as time has gone on from just DLNA media streaming among other features to now being a very extensive and capable suite allowing better utilization of your digital home experience. Now with WiFi GO! you can see remote file transfers within your WiFi network, DLNA media hub functionality, cloud based application and data along with Remote desktop control with KB/Mouse controls directly from even smartphone or tablet devices. the cloud storage ability to sync directly with cloud based services such as Google Drive/Docs, Dropbox and even ASUS Webstorage means that integration of your network into the could has never been easier. Even the ability to use the gyro sensor with your phone or tablet as intuitive controls in some gaming environments via the remote desktop control function adds yet another layer to the capability of the WiFi GO! functionality.
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 (No not like T-Pain) 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.
USB BIOS Flashback
ASUS offers the BIOS Flashback utility which is actually a multi-facet tool and has many capabilities which some may not be aware of. we have had many times where a motherboard did not support a CPU and a frantic search for a supported CPU just to flash the BIOS (ex. Gulftown CPU support on X58). ASUS has eliminated the worry of these kinds of issues by allowing the BIOS flashback procedure which does not require a CPU or memory or GPU to flash the BIOS. All that is needed in order to flash the BIOS is to have the desired firmware ROM file on a USB thumb drive and insert that into the BIOS Flashback USB port.
then depressing the BIOS Flashback button (At the bottom of the boards edge) for 5 seconds will start a flashing LED which indicates the firmware is being updated and once the update is complete the flashing will stop. It really is that easy and ensures no matter the condition the firmware can be flashed even if the newest CPU is not supported without the previously mentioned hunt for a compatible CPU.
This may seem like an odd feature but many may buy the newest and greatest CPU on the market while the board could have been shipped with the older firmware which in most cases would leave the user stuck without an option. As for our usage we have found this useful in quite a few experiences where running a LN2 cooled system not necessarily in the most stable conditions and a BIOS had gotten corrupt, but with the BIOS flashback it was remedied as quickly as we could copy the Rom file from our laptop to the flash drive and get it flashing.
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 dont 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-PRO
The packaging is standard ASUS with a techie look with a large naming on the front panel but also large icons covering some of the key features. The rear is where you get really indepth on what the features offer and what the platform can do.
Click Image For a Larger One
- SATA Cables
- WiFi/BT 4.0 Antennae
- Qconnect front panel connectors
- IO Shield
- SLI Ribbon Cable
- Installation disc
- Owners Manual
The accessories are more than enough to get you moving without too much hassle including the WiFI Antennae to handle the wireless duties quite nicely. Also I will take this time to note that I do like the new Wifi Antennae design much better than the dual antennae version used previously.
- WiFi/BT4.0 Card
- Intel Gigabit (10/100/1000) LAN Port
- 6x USB 3.0 ports (4x Asmedia, 2x Intel Z87)
- Optical S/PDIF Port
- D-Sub connector
- DVI Connector
- HDMI Connector
- Displayport Connector
- PS2 Combo KB/Mouse port
- 8 channel Realtek ALC 1150 powered audio connections
Here you can see that while similar to the Z87-A the PRO actually offers WiFi and also a ALC 1150 audio solution which tends to be included in many higher end solutions from various manufacturers.
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 alot 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 and has 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. Well all of that aside 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 I am old school and always keep pen and paper near by, we guess you could call this a “Green” alternative as you take notes on adjustments, although I would still keep a paper backup of any notes or at least a screenshot (F12) of the notes before flashing the BIOS as a bios update that goes deep enough could clear those notes and they would be gone forever.
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 a interesting feature and I am not saying everyone will use it but well for the target audience of this board (Extreme 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.
The ability to rename SATA ports is also a huge plus here as it allows quick easy reference to which port you are using rather than going by a port number which could be much harder to distinguish.
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.
Raising the multiplier is your quickest way to overclock the CPU which with some small voltage tweaks we were able to get to my testing speed of 4.6GHz and with not a huge amount of voltage but it should be noted that even at 4.6 which we consider to be a modestly high overclock for 24/7 usage it definitely runs much hotter than Ivy Bridge (3770K) and mind you that is to no fault of the board but more so to the design of the CPU itself in which you get the extra thermal dump.
The auto overclocking for the ASUS board even in the mainstream was very well tuned as it achieved stable clocks very quickly and easily, but we all know that were not here for the simple clocks so quickly I jumped into the advance to give it a run.
Similar to what I found on the Z87-A is that the BIOS works very similar minus some of the subzero tweaks to teh higher end series and achieving the 4.6GHz that I test at was virtually effortless. Within a minute or so I have 4.6GHz easily stable then a few minutes finding minimal voltage to run and it was off to the races although I bet there is alot more in the chip I dont want to push it too far as 4.6GHz is already well past the area of diminishing returns for any real world usage.
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-PRO OC (4.6GHz)||33C/70C|
|Chipset Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS Z87-PRO OC (4.6GHz)||31C/40C|
The reason temps may look a little lower than seen elsewhere online is that We 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. Do notice that this board pulls a small amount more than the reference Intel at stock but that can easily be attributed to the extra controllers onboard such as the WiFI and others.
In PCMark we are seeing a trend across the ASUS boards as their efficiency tracks very well and pulls a very nice score easily besting the previous gen and even the Intel reference.
Here you can see that the Z87-PRO puts a overall hurt on the previous gen along with even current Intel as well as it simply does extremely well under the gaming simulated load of 3DMark.
The Maximus board seems to do decently here but is a bit behind the Intel board but once again being the fact that we have been getting BIOS updates regularly all the way up to the launch and then even after a bit we will reserve our opinion on the single threaded performance until I feel that everything including MRC updates are under control. These updates included updated code from Intel so its possible that it could change the state of the game completely in a single update.
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 ASUS board once again impresses with a very powerful run ripping off some seriously good numbers. These numbers come close to the top end OC based boards.
“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, though the addition of the Maximus board yields a bit higher minimum framerate due to the performance optimizations.
Our Final Thoughts
ASUS once again built to impress with its 8 series entry as the mainstream is where most of the money is at since most users do not have or will not spend the huge bucks on the OC level boards. To have such optimization and performance levels is huge for a board in the midrange – performance midrange segment means you are gonna have a one up on the competition. add to this all of the included features and abilities to easily optimize performance, cooling and power efficiency and you have a package that requires little tweaking which once again opens up this board to a much broader market.
The fact that in testing both mainstream boards performed top notch when compared to the higher priced boards is a huge plus and shows the efficiency level to ASUS tuning not just on the high end OC level boards but as ASUS explained that all boards are tuned to be as functionally identical as possible holds true. The fact that the platform as a whole seems to have been tuned before segregation of features only were added means you are getting the very best you can expect and also one thing worth noting is that to this day I have a test board for GPU’s the Rampage IV Extreme and it is still receiving regular BIOS updates tells me that the level of support you will get is going to be very good.
The only real nit I can pick with this board would be the fact of the color scheme and even to that end for most users who simply install it and never look again probably couldnt care less if the board was brown, purple or black, but for ASUS to change from the Blue models previously now to this gold is to me kind of off putting as its a bit tougher for users with windowed panels or building a themed mod for the board to fit in color wise as the shade of gold and yellowish plastics is not very common form the case mods I have seen of recent. Once again do note this is my personal opinion and im sure many will love or simply not care about the color and for those who prefer function over form it wont make a single bit of difference.
Overall with the platform continuity and ability to run WiFI on this board there really is no reason i could not recommend this board to its fullest for everyone out there as at its price point its really tough to beat.