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Asus Z87-Pro, where an overclock is just a click away!
on August 21, 2013
I'm pasting this review from my website but you will have to go to my website in order to see the benchmark results because I cannot put pictures in Amazon reviews. I posted the link in the comments because Amazon doesn't allow URLs in reviews.
With the arrival of the much anticipated Haswell processor, Asus has released a variety of mainstream motherboards that are targeted at enthusiasts and gamers. Today I'm going to be reviewing the Z87-Pro which is the big brother to the Z87-A. I have had the Asus Z87-Pro for a few days now and I'm overall very impressed by its performance, durability and build quality. Asus has always made outstanding motherboards and the Asus Z87-Pro is an impressive mid-range motherboard that not only looks attractive but performs like a champ as well. The Z87-Pro sports the gold color scheme which I think looks quite attractive and makes the motherboard feel more premium. It comes with an endless amount of options (which I will go into full details later) for overclocking, fan customization and power saving options.
The brand new AI Suite III is improved quite a lot and Asus has done a fantastic job at making overclocking as easy as possible. I was able to get my 4770K with a single mouse click overclocked to 4.6Ghz with the correct settings and voltages and that's all thanks to the new AI Suite III. It automatically found the right settings, voltages and optimized the system to perform like it should with the new overclock. Asus has completely redesigned the interface in the AI Suite III which is easier to understand and follow and has also implemented a lot of new features that are very useful. AI Suite III allows you to control every single part of your motherboard and even turn off some parts of the motherboard to conserve energy which can be quite useful if all you do is browse the internet and watch videos.
The amount of features that are included in this motherboard is literally mind blowing. The UEFI BIOS is also improved from the previous version and is super easy to navigate around. It has so many options that it can be overwhelming at first but after getting used to it, I literally fell in love with it. I will be doing quite a few of benchmarks to test the performance of this motherboard and I will go into full detail about the BIOS. Let's start talking about the details of the motherboard now, shall we?
+Packaging & Accessories:
Let's start off with the packaging because that's the first thing we'll see when we receive the product. The retail packaging feels sturdy and is overall great and also very attractive. Everything that you need to know about the motherboard is presented right in front of you. Before, we were used to seeing Asus's packages with the typical blue color scheme but this time Asus has gone with a black and gold color scheme which looks absolutely fantastic.
On the front cover we have the name of the motherboard written in big text and the "Z87" is in white color and the "-Pro" is in gold color that obviously indicates the gold color scheme that's used in the motherboard. Below this text, we can see specific features like TPU System Upgrade, EPU Energy Savings, Wi-Fi Go!, Digi+Power control and Ultimate Cool and Quite combination with Fan Xpert 2. On the right we can see the Dual Intelligent Processors 4, SLI Support, and CrossFire Support which I will get into detail later.
On the back of the package, we have all the features that are on the front cover but explained into further detail and specifically what each one does. We can also see the layout of the motherboard and where everything is placed. When we open up the package, we can see that the motherboard is placed inside an anti-static bag for protection as you would expect for any motherboard. The motherboard itself is securely packaged and won't get damaged during transit. Asus has always done a fine job at making sure their motherboards are well secured inside the box. Beneath the motherboard, we will find the typical accessories that you would expect from any motherboard manufacture to include.
Along with the motherboard, these are the accessories that you will find inside the package.
* Drive Disc
* ASUS Q-Connectors
* Antenna for the Wi-Fi Go!
* 2-Way SLI Bridge
* I/O Shield
* 4x SATA Cables
+Build Quality / Design:
Asus has decided to go for a different color scheme this time around with their mainstream Z87 motherboards and in my opinion, it looks much better than their previous blue/black color scheme. The gold color scheme looks fantastic on the Asus Z87-Pro and it really makes the motherboard stand out when you are looking inside your case. The gold color scheme is supposed to convey a premium feel which it does very well. It comes with a stainless steel back I/O for great protection and extended motherboard lifespan. The build quality, performance and durability are as always absolutely fantastic and Asus has never failed me in that department. The Z87-Pro also offers a massive 12+2-phase DIGI+ Power Control for extreme overclocking, fuse ICs for the DRAM and best of all, solid capacitors rated for 5,000 hours at 105C. The Z87-Pro is greatly designed to handle high volts really well and the layout of the motherboard is like always very clean with no real tight areas.
The heatsinks on the VRMs look great coated with the gold color scheme and you can feel that it is made with high quality materials. They are short enough to stay away from most aftermarket CPU coolers so you can install huge CPU coolers like the Noctua NH-D14 without having to worry about interfering with it. All of these great features make the motherboard very attractive and the new heatsinks have bigger surface areas for better heat dissipation and improved cooling which is the first thing I noticed when looking at the motherboard. This means it can handle more volts without overheating which will result in higher overclocking. On the back of the motherboard you will see that you have a few backplates where the VRMs are and this is to protect the circuitry and help with dissipating the heat. It also comes with a 3 year warranty which is very nice to have.
+Ports / Features:
The Z87-Pro comes with a whopping eight SATAIII ports and they are all 6Gb/s ports. Six of those SATA III ports are from the Z87 chipset and two of those are from the ASMedia 1061 controller. Long gone are the days where you had only one or two SATAIII ports. The motherboard is SLI and Crossfire ready so you can stick two of your favorite cards in there and get awesome performance (they won't run at full x16 but instead at x8 which is still more than enough). You also have four USB 3.0 ports via the Z87 chipset and four more from ASMedia 1042 controller.
Features such as USB 3.0 Boost, Fan Xpert and the new Dual Intelligent Processors 4 and 4-Way optimization are great features that can really improve the user's experience. Another great feature that I absolutely love is the Wi-Fi Go! Technology which you can setup a wireless network without the use of another router. It's little things like this that separates Asus from other companies in this industry and that's why I recommend Asus products to anyone who reads my reviews.
The ASUS Z87-Pro Intelligent Processors 4 and 4-Way optimization offers automatic overclock, improved power efficiency, customized fan controls and optimized digital power delivery. All of these are unique features that can easily tweak your system without too much effort. It auto detects the best performance for your system which is great if you don't want to spend countless of hours into tweaking your system. You can even set the max power delivery for your system and it will try to not go over that limit which can be useful if you want to conserve electricity. You can enable the EPU mode and you will be instantly saving power and money without sacrificing performance. It can even shut down parts of your motherboard to save power and it can also improve the cooling of your system and reduce fan noise.
The Z87-Pro comes with a total of seven PCI-Express ports, three x16 ports and four x1ports. The first two ports are PCI-Express x16 3.0 while the last one is 2.0 and it runs only at x4 mode. The board supports full x16 bandwidth but only with a single card. If you want to run dual GPUs, it will run at x8/x8 or if you want to run a triple card configuration then it would be x8/x8/x4. Also, something to note about the Z87-Pro is that there are no PCI slots which might disappoint some people. I personally like that it doesn't have any PCI slots because it can take up precious space in the motherboard and they have become so outdated and slow nowadays.
It comes with four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of ram in dual channel mode and can even support ram up to 2800Mhz-3000Mhz if you can overclock it. If something goes wrong when installing a new hardware, the LED display on the board will give you an error code which then you can use to look up what the problem is. The LED display is always on and when there isn't an error, it displays the BIOS version. This feature can be quite handy when troubleshooting new hardware and really easy to figure out what exactly is not working properly.
Looking at the edge of the motherboard where the third PCIe slot is, we can see an ASUS debug header which is used for internal board testing by Asus, the onboard USB 2.0 headers, the BIOS Flashback button, and the DirectKey button which forces the system the system to shutdown or power when pressed. If you enable the DirectKey setting which is located on the BIOS Boot page, the system goes directly into the BIOS when you press the DirectKey button. You can also use the DirectKey header to connect it to the case button which you can then operate it from outside the case.
An excellent feature that Asus has implemented into their boards is the USB BIOS Flashback button. You can use this to flash the BIOS without having to boot the system into the UEFI BIOS which makes it much easier. There's no need to have a CPU, memory, or GPU installed in the motherboard to update your BIOS. You simply plug in a USB drive with the correct BIOS file into the lower USB 3.0 port underneath the LAN port and press the button for 3 seconds until the integrated LED begins to flash. While the BIOS is updating, the LED flashing frequency increases letting you know that it's still working. When the LED stops flashing, the flash operation is completed and the board can be booted. With the USB BIOS Flashback feature, it's impossible to brick your board!
Back I/O Ports
* PS/2 keyboard/mouse combination port(s)
* LAN (RJ45) port(s)
* 6 x USB 3.0 (blue)
* Optical S/PDIF out
* 6 x Audio jack(s)
* Asus Wi-Fi GO! module (Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth v4.0/3.0+HS)
+Software/AI Suit III:
The Asus Z87-Pro comes with the brand new AI Suite III which makes overclocking extremely easy even for first time users. With the new AI Suite III, you have pretty much control over your entire motherboard and when I say you have control over your entire motherboard, I really mean it. When using AI Suite III, you are presented with five sections at the top and each one does its specific thing. You have the option of putting your computer in power saving mode to reduce as much electricity as possible or set it to high performance to get the most out of your computer. You can customize your fan speeds for silent mode, automatically/manually overclock your CPU and many more which I'll explain into details below.
When you first open up AI Suit III, the first section that you will see is the 4-Way Optimization section and this deals mostly with automatic overclocking, optimizing fan speed and power savings options. At the bottom of this section, we can see our current CPU frequency, Dram frequency, the voltage for each core, temperature of the CPU/Motherboard and how fast each fan in your case is running at. Also, on the side you have four power saving modes, Auto, High Performance, Max Power Saving and Away Mode. This section will mostly display the settings your current components are running at; you can't really tweak anything here.
Moving over to the second section, we have the TPU section and this is where you will be spending most of your time tweaking your CPU settings and overclocking it. Here we have adjustable settings for BCLK, CPU Ratio, CPU Cache Ratio, Voltages and CPU Cache. Overclocking has never been this easy and Asus has done a fantastic job at improving their software. I know some of the earlier versions of AI Suit had some glitches but it seems like Asus has fixed all of them. I remember one glitch in the earlier version of AI Suit where it would report a different CPU temperature than what it actually was in the BIOS. There is also a checkbox called Group Tuning that allows for adjusting each core individually or all cores at once. On the side of this section, we have four cylinders which each one represents each core of the CPU. You can also overclock each core differently if you like and it will show you using the cylinder. There is a subsection in the TPU section marked CPU Strap where you can change the CPU Strap to 100, 125, 167, and 250. At the bottom of this section, we can see the sensors for voltages, temperatures and fan speeds. Everything in the software feels well designed and very easy on the eyes.
The third section is the EPU section and this is specifically designed for power saving options. There are four subsections in the EPU section, Auto, High Performance, Max Power Saving and Away Mode. You have the option to set the voltage decrement to either auto or manual. You can also undervolt the CPU to conserve as much energy as possible. I know many people who undervolt their CPUs because they simply don't need all that power when browsing the internet so this is an outstanding feature in the new AI Suit III. You can control your monitor sleep time, computer sleep, fan profiles and you can even turn off the USB controller power if a device is not attached to save as much energy as possible. I love the option of turning off the fans when doing light tasks such as browsing the internet or watching movies. I could hardly hear the system running when I turned off most of the fans in my system.
The fourth section is the Digi+Power Control section and here you have two subsections, one for CPU and for RAM. The CPU section contains settings for load-line calibration, CPU Power Phase Control which can be set to either: Standard, Optimized, Extreme or Manual Adjustment. You also have CPU Current Capability, CPU Power Thermal Control, Voltage Frequency, CPU Power Duty Control and Active Frequency Mode which can be set to either OFF or ON. There are so many options in this section that you can play around with and get awesome overclocks. The memory subsection has adjustable settings for DRAM Current Capability, DRAM Voltage Frequency and DRAM power phase control. You can overclock your RAM with literally one mouse click and you don't have to constantly reboot into BIOS and keep tweaking the settings.
The fifth section is the Fan Xpert 2 section which is probably one my favorite feature of the AI Suite III because you have pretty much control over every single fan in your case, from the CPU fan to each individual case fans. You have four profiles to choose from when you click the Fan Xpert 2 section, Silent, Standard, Turbo and Full Speed. You can set the fan in `silent' mode if you are doing light tasks such as watching YouTube videos or browsing the internet and you won't even hear the computer running. If you are going to be playing intensive games such as BF3, Crysis 3 or Metro LL then consider choosing a different fan profile. There is also a fan curve customization for the CPU fan which you can play around with so you can make your own profile and it will automatically adjust its speed which is what I did.
As soon as you boot into BIOS, you are presented with a simple (EZ Mode) and advanced mode. The BIOS has full support for both keyboard and mouse and it's designed in a way that both first time users and advanced users can jump right in and start tweaking. The EZ Mode is targeted at people who have little to no experience with overclocking and has very few little options that you can play around with. With the release of Haswell, Asus has expanded its functionality by adding XMP memory control and the ability to select pre-defined fan profiles. Overclocking your RAM has literally gotten so easy that even a caveman can do it.
The UEFI BIOS comes loaded with a ton of amazing features that you could ever want in a BIOS. My first favorite feature of the BIOS is the option of writing quick notes while you are in the BIOS for future references. I can imagine this being useful to pretty much everyone because this makes it so much easier to remember what you have to do when you get in the BIOS. There is a quick note button on the right side of the screen which will bring up a text box where you can write notes so it's pretty easy to access. You can take notes of the results you get when overclocking and compare them with the previous results and you know they will be in a safe place and not get lost. I can safely say that Asus has possibly the best UEFI BIOS out of all the manufactures in this industry. There's so many things that I like about the BIOS but a cool little feature that Asus has created is that now you can take screenshots within the BIOS by pressing F12 and it will save the screenshot in your USB in a bitmap format at 1024x768 resolution.
My second favorite feature of the BIOS is the new `Favorites' screen which allows you to add any BIOS option to the screen for fast and easy access. There is also a last modified button which will show you the last modified changes that you made to the BIOS which is very useful because if something goes horribly wrong or is not working like it should, you can go back and easily fix it. Another neat little feature that Asus has made to the BIOS is that when you are about to save your settings and prepared to exit, it will show you all the changes you are about to make which can be useful just in case you make a mistake.
Another very useful feature for people who reboot hundreds of times a day when overclocking/tweaking is the new ASUS Boot Setting. This allows you to boot directly into the BIOS without having to press delete repeatedly on the POST screen. I'm one of those OCD people who reboots into the BIOS at least 20 times a day (I'm dead serious) and this is probably the smartest feature that Asus has created for overclocking geeks like me. This will save me a ton of time when I go back into the BIOS and start tweaking stuff.
Let's talk a bit about the test system that was used in the following benchmarks because that's (obviously) very important. I did a clean Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64bit format on my Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD and made sure nothing was running in the background while I was doing the benchmarks. All the components will be inside the enormous Corsair 900D which offers great performance for both air cooling and water cooling setups. I'm using the Kingston HyperX Beast (2x8GB) 16GB at 2133Mhz which is very fast and the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB which is one of the fastest SSDs in the market right now. All the benchmarks below have been made with the 4770K at 4.6Ghz and then some of the other benchmarks are done with the GTX Titan and the Intel iGPU since I don't have any other dedicated GPUs in my house to test it against. The EVGA SuperNOVA 1000W will be used to power everything that you see below. Also, Noctua fans will be used instead of the stock H100i fans for the radiator and the case fan since they are quieter and overall much better.
* Test System:
Case: Corsair 900D
GPU: EVGA GTX Titan
CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K
PSU: EVGA SuperNOVA 1000W
Ram: Kingston HyperX Beast 16GB
SSD: Samsung 840 Pro 256GB
Cooling: Corsair H100i
MB: ASUS Z87-Pro
OS: Windows 7 64bit
I will be doing a bunch of benchmarks on the Z87-Pro motherboard so we can see how well it performs. First, I will start with the boot times since that's obviously very important. After having installed all the drivers and done all the windows updates, I noticed that the boot times with this motherboard are some of the fastest I have seen. I was getting boot times under 8 seconds which is incredibly quick and much better than my previous motherboards that I have tested.
+Boot Time using Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64bit: ~7 seconds
Another test that people have requested me do on my previous reviews is benchmarking the performance of the SATAIII controller. SATAIII has become the standard nowadays and while it is slowly become saturated by newer SSDs; it is still more than enough to drive an SSD to its full limits. I will be using the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB which is one of the fastest SSDs your money can buy to measure how fast the SATAIII controller is on the Asus Z87-Pro. The software that I will be using is CrystalDiskMark which is a very useful benchmarking tool that's used to measure the speed of a drive based on Sequential, 512K and 4K read and write tests.
As you can see from the results below, I got very impressive scores.
+SATAIII: CrystalDiskMark (Samsung 840 Pro 256GB):
---------------------Read ----------- Write
Sequence: 536.7MB/sec --- 502.5MB/sec
512K: 497.3MB/sec -------507.5MB/sec
4K: 38.54MB/sec -----------87.66MB/sec
4K QD32: 395.4MB/sec -----344.26MB/sec
Moving on, testing the speed of the USB 3.0 controller on the Asus Z87-Pro was done by using the "Orico 6619US3-BK Super Speed USB3.0" which converts your SSD/HDD to a USB 3.0. I have a couple of these at home that I use regularly and they are quite useful. The drive inside was the exact same that I used before, Samsung 840 Pro 256GB and once again, the results were impressive and some of the fastest I have seen.
+USB 3.0: CrystalDiskMark (Samsung 840 Pro 256GB):
---------------------Read ----------- Write
Sequence: 502.3MB/sec --- 473.3MB/sec
512K: 443.1MB/sec -------472.6MB/sec
4K: 28.22MB/sec -----------44.36MB/sec
4K QD32: 95.6MB/sec -----153.47MB/sec
Haswell has brought different overclocking methods and challenges that are different from what we are used to. Now, we all know that Ivy Bridge CPUs run hot but Haswell runs even hotter due to having the VRMs on-die so you can no longer rely on a stock Intel cooler to cool your CPU. Many people have been switching to high end water cooling setups to achieve reasonable overclocks. If you have a good closed liquid cooler such as the H100i or an air cooler like the NH-D14 then you should be able to get high overclocks very easily.
Asus has done an excellent job of providing users with as many options for people that like to tweak every single component on their machines to get the best possible performance. You can either overclock manually by go into the BIOS which can get a bit tiresome or use the brand new AI Suite III which makes it a lot easier. The AI Suite III makes it extremely easy for people that just want to overclock their CPU and not waste countless hours trying to tweak other settings and figuring out what's causing BSODs and things of that nature. With a single mouse click, the AI Suite III automatically optimizes your CPU for the best overclock your system can handle and you never have to look back. I personally know many people that would love to have this feature and don't want to sit in their BIOS all day to test each setting individually.
For this test, I'm going to use AI Suit III because with one mouse click, it overclocked my CPU to 4.6Ghz and it was fully stable. I used Prime95 for 30 minutes to test the stability of the CPU and I only needed 1.21volts for it to be fully stable. Temps are also great on the Z87-Pro and it never exceeds 75C which is awesome. I could have easily gone for 4.8Ghz and this motherboard would have had no problems handling it but my Corsair H100i wouldn't have been able to keep the temps down. I did test it and the temps went through the roof, well over 90C so I had to dial it back a bit.
Moving along, here are some of the benchmarks that I did to test the performance of the motherboard. Everything has been tested with the 4770K overclocked at 4.6Ghz using 1.21volts/1920x1080.
CPU: 9.94 - (Multi-Threaded)
CPU: 2.07 - (Single-Threaded)
OpenGL: 89.54fps - (iGPU)
+PCMark 8 Work: 5619
+PCMark 8 Home: 6153
+PCMark 7 Computation: 8647
+PCMark 7 Storage: 5264
+PCMark 8 Vantage Productivity: 40128
+PCMark 8 Vantage Gaming: 30714
+wPrime 32M: 7.026
+wPrime 1024M: 177.811
+3DMark 11 Physics: 12434
+3DMark Fire Strike Physics: 40.75
+3DMark Cloud Gate Physics: 30.24
+3DMark Ice Storm Physics: 205.16
+x264 HD Video Encoding v5.0.1:
This is a popular benchmark that measures how fast your machine can encode a short HD quality video clip into a high quality x264 video file. Make sure to enable "Sync all cores" in the UEFI BIOS to get the accurate score because at first I was using the XMP profile and I was getting very low scores and after enabling it, everything was good.
1st pass: 84.23fps
+All the games below are tested at max settings at 1920x1080. I don't have any other GPUs that I could test it against so that's why I used my main card which is the Titan:
Metro Last Light
Intel iGPU: ~14fps
GTX Titan: ~86fps
Intel iGPU: ~19fps
GTX Titan: ~78fps
Intel iGPU: ~21fps
GTX Titan: ~88fps
Intel iGPU: ~23fps
GTX Titan: ~93fps
-Expensive for a mid-range motherboard:
Overall, the Asus Z87-Pro is an outstanding motherboard and offers a ton of amazing features. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great mid-range motherboard that is made with high quality components and comes loaded with an endless amount of options for overclocking. It may not have all the features that the ROG or TUF has but it's still able to perform relatively well. The gold color scheme and the board design looks top notch as you would expect from any Asus motherboards. Asus also included their enhanced Wi-Fi antenna that offers better reception and faster throughput speeds.
Overclocking with this motherboard takes literally one click and you are done. The 4-Way Optimization in the new AI Suite III makes overclocking super easy for people who don't want to bother with going into the BIOS and tweaking each setting. The Z87-Pro has nice and strong VRMs that can handle high volts really well (1.4v+). You can easily overclock your 4770K/4670K to 4.8Ghz if you have a good water cooling setup and it will automatically tune your system for the best performance without you having to go into the BIOS and playing with each individual setting. If you plan on upgrading to a Haswell CPU and are looking for an excellent mid-range motherboard then the Z87-Pro might be the one for you.
It has a superb UEFI BIOS that's probably the best out of all that I have seen. The amount of SATAIII and USB 3.0 ports is mind-blowing and if you are someone who has a lot of devices connected to your compute, this motherboard will be even better for you. Boot times, SATAIII and USB 3.0 performance is very good with this motherboard. This board has everything you can ask for and more. The UEFI BIOS is friendly and has an enormous amount of options that can be overwhelming at first but give it a few tries and you will fall in love with it. You can write quick notes while you are in the BIOS for future references which can very useful and the "Favorite" option is also very good if you want to customize it with the settings that you use the most to get quick access to everything.
The Asus Z87-Pro retails for $199.00 (Amazon) and it does cost a little bit more than other mid-range motherboards but it also has a ton of mind-blowing features that I personally cannot live without. Asus has always made amazing motherboards and the Z87-Pro is no exception. This is a very attractive looking motherboard that doesn't disappoint in any area and overclocking is so easy that even a caveman can do it. It is made of high quality materials and the gold color scheme easily makes the motherboard stand out from the crowd. Asus has another winner in their hands!