We've seen more innovation in motherboard firmware since the industry transitioned from the old BIOS standard to the new UEFI. MSI has cooked up a few UEFI enhancements for its 8-series boards, but it's only made minor alterations to the main interface.
The UI combines BIOS-style menus with a smattering of mouse-centric elements, including a drag-and-drop boot sequence in the status window along the top. While the resolution is relatively low, the presentation is clean and crisp overall.
Thanks to snappy transitions and smooth mouse tracking, the firmware feels very responsive. MSI also speeds the tweaking process by allowing important variables to be keyed in directly. You won't find exotic-looking sliders or drop-down menus among the overclocking options, though. MSI has reserved its major UI tweaks for the all-new fan control interface.
The Hardware Monitor consolidates fan control and real-time system monitoring in a single window. Navigating it with the keyboard is a little awkward, but the tabbed interface and draggable sliders are a good fit for mouse input.
This is the first time we've seen fan profiles actually illustrated in motherboard firmware. Although the points on the graph can't be dragged with the mouse, they do reflect changes made with the sliders below. The graph also tracks temperatures and fan speeds, making me wish there were a way to apply an arbitrary CPU load from within the firmware. It would be nice to dial-in fan profiles without having to boot into the OS to check temperatures and noise levels under load.
In addition to looking good, the fan controls are quite robust. Minimum and maximum temperatures and fan speeds can be set for each of the two CPU headers and for three system headers. Static speed control is also available for the system headers. The minimum speeds are locked at 50% for system fans and 12.5% for CPU fans.
MSI has also added a Board Explorer feature that provides information on connected components. Clicking highlighted regions brings up information on the attached hardware. There are also pop-up windows that provide a better angle on the rear I/O cluster and internal SATA ports.
In another nice touch, the firmware's OC Profile manager has been upgraded to show how a profile's key CPU, DRAM, and IGP settings compare to current values. This comparison view is only available when loading profiles from USB storage, though. You're flying blind when flipping through the six profile slots built into the firmware itself.
The practice of sneakily increasing Turbo multipliers seems to have permeated the industry. These days, it's common for mobo makers to silently extend the fastest single-core Turbo multiplier to all-core loads, resulting in an effective 200MHz overclock when chips like the Core i7-4770K are fully loaded. This boost is usually enabled only when users define the DRAM frequency manually. However, beta versions of the Z87-GD65 Gaming's firmware increase Turbo multipliers automatically; their default configuration technically voids the CPU warranty.
Obviously, motherboard firmware shouldn't overclock the processor without the user's explicit consent. MSI doesn't do anything shady in the so-called MP firmware loaded onto retail boards and made available through its website. These official releases follow the correct Turbo multipliers even when the memory speed has been tweaked manually.
Adding to the confusion, the Enhanced Turbo feature responsible for boosting multipliers defaults to "auto" in both beta and MP versions of the firmware. There's no way to tell whether the auto setting is juicing clock speeds without verifying frequencies manually on a loaded system. Thankfully, the Enhanced Turbo feature can at least be disabled.
Since MSI's production firmware honors the correct Turbo multipliers, typical users should be safe from inadvertent overclocking. The misbehaving betas aren't even available on the company's website. Instead, they came to us directly from MSI along with a suggestion that we use the latest beta for testing. Perhaps I'm cynical, but that sure smells like an attempt to inflate benchmark scores artificially in online reviews.
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