Motherboard firmware has evolved considerably since the transition from old-school BIOSes to the latest UEFIs, but the Z97WE feels a little behind the times. Although it has a lot of the basic elements found in other motherboard firmware, the delivery is short on style, polish, and extra perks.
The frequency, multiplier, and voltage options should be sufficient to satisfy most overclockers. Some of the voltage options are less granular than what's available on the other enthusiast boards, but there's still plenty of room for fine-tuning.
Mouse and keyboard navigation works well enough, especially since popular values can be keyed in directly. The interface is pretty ugly, though, and there isn't a whole lot of contextual help. The manual is also light on firmware-related information, which is fine for seasoned enthusiasts but less ideal for uninitiated tweakers.
On the surface, the firmware seems to have a decent array of fan control options. Unfortunately, the reality is more complicated. The "off" temperature doesn't actually shut off fans completely; instead, it spins them down to their lowest default speed, which can't be reduced to zero. The built-in calibrator at least measures that minimum speed, but it displays maximum and minimum speed and PWM values in lieu of a complete profile. Also, the PWM scales are out of 256 levels instead of something intuitive, like 100%, and the sensitivity settings use vague, unit-less numbers. "The numeral is bigger the fan speed is higher," the firmware not-so-helpfully explains. Ugh.
None of this matters if you have three-pin DC fans, which maintain a steady speed regardless of which settings are used. The temperature-based speed controls require four-pin PWM spinners.
Overall, the Z97WE's UEFI feels kind of awkward and half-baked compared to the more refined implementations on other Z97 boards. The Windows tweaking software may be better, but I can't say for sure. Biostar's T-Overclocker utility won't load at all for me in Windows 8.1. The software installs without complaint, but nothing happens when the program is launched. Biostar says it has discovered the culprit, but "it will take a while" to fix the problem.
Biostar's power-saving utility runs, at least, but that's little consolation. Just look at the thing:
The GUI looks more like a mockup than a finished product. Maybe it's an ironic reference to the hideous software interfaces that plagued motherboard tuning software years ago, but I kind of doubt it.
More importantly, the utility appears to have little effect on system power consumption. The needle on our watt meter barely budged when we engaged the power-saving measures, regardless of whether the system was idling or under load.
The traffic management software for the onboard networking seems to be more useful, but it has issues, too. I've gotten "not support this platform" errors a few times after booting the system, possibly because the Smart Speed software tries to launch before the networking driver finishes initializing. Once loaded, the utility feels fairly basic, with limited options and no way to add applications manually to the priority list.
Biostar's Bio Remote 2 software enables remote overclocking, media control, and keyboard/mouse input via Android and iOS apps. The software is hosted on a separate page, so don't confuse it with the first-gen Bio Remote utility included with the Z97WE. That application is for IR remotes, and it's a whole other thing.
The overclocking component of the Android app doesn't work with our test system, probably due to issues with the T-Overclocker Windows utility. Remote keyboard and mouse input is functional, though, and so is the Windows Media Player remote. Except it looks like this:
The remote interface is marred by off-center playback buttons and obscured volume controls. Fixing those issues should be easy, but maintaining the app apparently hasn't been a priority for Biostar. The latest version on the Google Play store is almost two years old, and the most recent iOS release dates back to April 2011.
The Z97WE clearly falls short on the software front. On the next page, we'll see how well it overclocks and performs.
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