Single page Print

Firmware enhancements
Since the Sandy Bridge generation, Asus has arguably had the most enthusiast-friendly motherboard firmware in the business. The same basic design has been honed for Haswell, and plenty of little extras have been sprinkled on top. Take the UI, for example. Asus has maintained a familiar theme, but it's changed the color scheme, fonts, and scaling. The end result looks cleaner and sharper to my eyes.

The EZ interface pictured above is targeted at newbies, and it's traditionally been light on actual options. Asus has expanded its functionality for Haswell, adding XMP memory control and the ability to select pre-defined fan profiles.

The Shortcut button in the lower left corner has been carried over from Asus' Ivy Bridge boards, but its contents are now customizable. Users can add shortcuts to any variable within the advanced interface. They can also populate an entire Favorites tab in the alternate UI.

Most of us modify only a fraction of the settings in modern mobo firmware. The mix of options is probably slightly different for each user, making the favorites tab a nice addition.

As one might expect, the advanced interface is teeming with tweaking and overclocking options. We've seen the vast majority of them before, but Asus has cooked up something new for CPU voltage adjustment. In the past, users have been limited to defining a static voltage or using an offset that boosts the CPU's default by a specific amount. The offset mode is generally preferred because it allows the CPU voltage to drop when Turbo is disengaged.

Even with the CPU idling at its lowest clock speed, though, the offset mode applies extra voltage, raising power consumption and heat output unnecessarily. Asus' new adaptive mode addresses this issue by applying an offset voltage only when Turbo multipliers are active. The CPU runs at its default voltage when idling.

Adaptive voltage control is pretty slick, but it's not perfect. Haswell CPUs can request additional voltage under extremely heavy loads, and this is applied on top of the adaptive voltage set in the firmware. If your cooling solution can't handle the extra voltage (typically around 100 mV, from what we've been told), throttling or worse could result.

Asus tells us that only stress tests like Prime95 will cause Haswell CPUs to demand extra voltage; even multithreaded rendering loads don't hit the chip hard enough. The only way to stop this voltage grab is to set a static CPU voltage, Asus claims. Offset voltages are affected just like adaptive ones.

Another setting of note is MultiCore Enhancement, which has been used in the past to boost Turbo multipliers silently when unrelated system variables are changed. Asus promised it wouldn't play tricks with Turbo this time around, and the Z87-PRO delivers on that pledge. We have seen some other Z87 boards resort to surreptitious overclocking, though. Stay tuned for their public shaming.

Like Asus' previous UEFI iterations, the Z87-PRO's firmware feels like it's been designed for speedy navigation. The interface transitions are instantaneous, and the mouse and keyboard response are excellent. Most multipliers, clock speeds, voltages, and timings can be keyed in directly.

The advanced section of the firmware contains a couple of unique features we haven't seen elsewhere. QuickNote allows text notes to be saved and modified within the firmware interface. Then there's the Last Modified log, which keeps a running record of settings changes. The log can be accessed at any time and saved to a USB drive. An appended version is also displayed when you're prompted to save changes upon exit. Pretty slick, no?

Speaking of slick, Asus continues to have the best firmware-based fan controls in the business. Users can choose between pre-baked profiles and manual tuning for each of the Z87-PRO's five onboard headers. The fan controls are somewhat limited compared to what's available in the new AI Suite III software for Windows, though. Let's see what that app has to offer.