Motherboard firmware in HD
The Z87X-UD3H has all-new firmware. The 3D BIOS interface from the previous generation has been scrapped in favor of a radical redesign. Apparently, the last interface was made to satisfy the demands of Gigabyte's marketing department. This time around, the engineers were given the freedom to do what they wanted. What they've created is quite good.
The first thing you'll notice about the interface is the resolution. The full UI is drawn at 1080p, and it looks very crisp when displayed on a modern LCD. As a fallback, Gigabyte provides a low-resolution mode that ditches the hardware monitoring panes surrounding the central menu area. Users can boot into either resolution by default and switch between them with the touch of a button.
Like the Windows desktop, the firmware has a background wallpaper. You can choose between two pre-loaded options or supply one of your own. Given the number of hours Gigabyte's engineers must spend looking at firmware screens, I can understand their desire to offer background customization.
Customization is a big part of the firmware, which has a home screen that can be tweaked to suit personal preferences. The home screen has six tabbed windows that can be filled with frequently used options from anywhere in the firmware. Each window can store multiple settings, so you can cover a lot of ground with the custom menus. As if that weren't enough, a separate favorites panel can be filled with shortcuts to individual firmware settings. You can select which window is displayed when the firmware first loads, too.
The UI is effectively built around two tiers of tabs. Switching between them is easy using keyboard shortcuts: shift + direction controls the top row, while ctrl + direction handles the bottom one. These combos make keyboard navigation particularly speedy, and the interface is responsive enough to keep up. Mouse input is a little jumpy, though. Lag isn't an issue, but the sensitivity feels too high.
Overall, the keyboard and mouse are both well-served by the interface. Users can manipulate settings by dragging sliders, scrolling through lists of options, and keying in values directly.
Like all too many motherboards we've encountered recently, the Z87X-UD3H sneakily increases the CPU's Turbo multipliers when the memory speed is defined manually. Even bumping up the DRAM clock to 1600MHz, the maximum speed officially supported by Haswell desktop CPUs, causes the single-core Turbo multiplier to be applied to all-core loads. On the Core i7-4770K, that means a clock speed jump of 200MHz when the CPU is fully loaded.
200MHz isn't a whole lot, but the principle is problematic. Firmware settings should be independent of each other; modifying one should never cause a completely unrelated setting to change. Also, motherboard firmware should never overclock anything without the user's explicit consent. Even an extra 200MHz with all-core loads could technically void the CPU warranty.
Rather than indicating that the CPU has been overclocked, the firmware makes it look like the proper Turbo multipliers are being used. The screenshot above is from a config that uses a 39X multiplier regardless of how many cores are active. Turbo limits must be set manually to ensure the proper multipliers are used in conjunction with manual memory clocks.
We encountered similar behavior on Gigabyte's Z77N-WiFi earlier this year, and other motherboard makers have employed the same tactic. Gigabyte product manager Jackson Hsu told us his company is simply trying to compete with rivals like Asus, which we've caught doing this kind of thing for years. Every bit of performance counts in a competitive market, even if it's acquired by iffy means. Since Asus has pledged to cease clandestine Turbo boosting with its 8-series mobos, we hope Gigabyte will follow suit.
Fan controls are another pet issue of mine, and the firmware does an OK job on that front. Temperature-based speed control is supported for the CPU fan in addition to three system fans. SYS2 and SYS3 are lumped together, though, and you can only define the slope of the fan profile.
Much better fan controls are available via Windows software, but first, a blast from the past:
Hate the fancy new interface? Hitting F2 switches to a classic UI that retains the menu layout of Gigabyte's old-school BIOSes. This mode can be set as the default, as well.
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