Fresh tweaking software
In recent years, Asus has put more emphasis on motherboard software. That effort continues with its 8-series family, which comes with the third generation of AI Suite. Like previous iterations of the tweaking utility, the latest revision is completely modular. Users can control which components are installed, although the overclocking, fan, and power controls are all lumped into the 4-Way Optimization module.
This all-in-one optimization tool combines automatic overclocking, power tuning, and fan control. Previous Asus software has supported automatic tuning in each of those categories, but this is the first time that a single routine takes them all into account at the same time. The one-button approach makes sense for newbies, and I suspect many enthusiasts will use it to establish a quick baseline from which to proceed with further tuning.
The 4-Way Optimizer can be tweaked in various ways. You can configure it to ignore certain categories, and there are secondary options within each one. For example, the auto-overclocker can be set to increase only the CPU multiplier, leaving the base clock steady. Unlike some automated overclocking software, AI Suite tests for stability automatically and reboots the system as needed.
AI Suite III is also well-equipped to handle manual tuning. All the most important overclocking knobs are there, including Turbo multipliers, CPU straps, and base clock controls. Adaptive and manual voltage adjustments are supported, and so are several power regulation options. While you're fiddling with settings, you can keep tabs on frequencies, voltages, and temperatures using the monitoring pane at the bottom of the UI.
Apart from a brief polling delay when modules are launched, AI Suite III feels smooth and responsive. The interface is intuitive, though its high information density might be a little intimidating. Seasoned enthusiasts will probably prefer the denser layout. They'll also appreciate the app's sparing CPU utilization and tiny memory footprint.
The overclocking options are nice, but if I were building a PC based on the Z87-PRO, I'd install AI Suite III just for the fan speed controls. They're that good.
First, there's the profiling function. AI Suite can run connected fans through their full range of supported voltages to establish an accurate speed profile for each one. The app allows users to name the fans and define their positions inside the chassis. This positional information is then fed into the auto-tuning process along with each fan's speed profile.
Once a fan has been profiled, you can drag multiple points along its temperature-based speed curve. Each fan also has an optional shut-off temperature that spins it down completely. To eliminate jarring transitions between fan speeds, there are separate sliders that control how quickly the RPMs ramp up and down in response to temperature changes.
If you don't want to install AI Suite, you're out of luck for Windows-based fan speed controls. However, you can still overclock using Asus' lightweight TurboV Core software.
This stand-alone application offers a bare-bones interface for clock, multiplier, and voltage control. TurboV Core can't manipulate the clock strap or variables related to the power circuitry, but it at least supports multiple profiles.
We could spend days exploring all the different ways one can overclock the Z87-PRO. Because our time is limited, we'll focus on two approaches: the 4-Way Optimizer and old-school manual tuning.
The auto-optimizer took our water-cooled Core i7-4770K up to 4.7GHz within minutes. That speed was only applied to 1-2-core loads, though. 3-4-core loads were capped at 4.6GHz, and AI Tuner registered a CPU voltage of 1.392V. Our Corsair Vengeance Pro memory was also cranked up to 2400MHz—its maximum rated speed—and the DRAM timings were adjusted accordingly.
This machine-tuned config was stable under load, with only a hint of throttling under our combined CPU and graphics stress test. The automated tuner did blue-screen once in its search for the limits of our hardware, but it recovered gracefully.
You won't earn any enthusiast cred with automatic overclocking, so we also pushed our system by tweaking the firmware manually. This time, we focused our efforts on the CPU exclusively. We also ignored the base clock and its associated strap. Our K-series Haswell CPU has access to high enough multipliers to cover all but the most extreme overclocking attempts.
Asus recommends that most firmware variables be left at their "auto" setting even when overclocking manually. The auto rules didn't give our CPU enough voltage to go beyond 4.2GHz, though. Higher speeds required more juice, which we were happy to supply with a static voltage.
In the end, we got our 4770K up to 4.7GHz with quad-core loads, a smidgen better than the auto-tuner's result. That frequency required 1.375V, and it was stable and throttle-free under load. We were also able to boot the system at 4.8GHz, but that speed required more voltage to avoid blue screens under load. Unfortunately, upping the voltage raised temperatures enough to invoke throttling even with our water cooler pumping at full speed.
Of course, your mileage may vary. You can read more about Haswell overclocking in this article.
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