Firmware and software
At the Computex trade show a few weeks ago, I was told that Asus had about 100 R&D engineers working on its UEFI replacement for the BIOS. Boy does it show. Since debuting with 6-series motherboards for Sandy Bridge CPUs, Asus' UEFI implementation has consistently outclassed not only competing takes on the new firmware technology, but also attempts to drag old-school BIOSes into the next generation.
The appeal of Asus' UEFI is twofold. There's the eye candy, of course. UEFI allows for graphical user interfaces that are much nicer to look at than the two-tone, text-only screens of a typical BIOS. Nowhere is UEFI's interface potential better illustrated than in the EZ Mode screen, which provides a handful of very high-level performance tweaking options with a side of system monitoring and the ability to drag-and-drop devices to arrange the boot priority.
Serious enthusiasts will want to skip EZ Mode and dip into the UEFI's advanced display, which looks like a prettied up version of Asus' old BIOS interface. While it's tempting to ding the company for not going wild with the GUI intended for enthusiasts, I appreciate having a familiar interface and organization of elements. The advanced look still feels very next-gen thanks to slick skinning, and it's quick to navigate with the mouse—wheel and all.
Mouse input is another big feature of UEFI implementations, and Asus' is the best by far. The UEFI is incredibly responsive, and unlike some other UEFI implementations we've used, it exhibits no cursor flickering or laggy input.
With the H67 Express chipset denied the ability to fiddle with Sandy Bridge multipliers, there isn't all that much to do in the UEFI. One can overclock the IGP and base clock, of course, and there's a mess of voltages to tweak. Don't forget about the fan speed controls, which are among the best in the business.
I call out motherboards for poor fan speed controls with regularity, so it's only fair that I give props for doing things right... or at least better. The Deluxe allows users to change the upper and lower temperature limits for the CPU fan and a peak threshold for the system fan. Control over the minimum and maximum speed of both fans is also provided. I'd like to see a little more on this front, especially when it comes to defining how aggressively the fans respond to changes in temperatures. To Asus' credit, there's an app for that.
FAN Xpert is included with Asus' AI Suite of Windows utilities, and it provides additional control over the behavior of fans connected to the motherboard's headers. Using the app, one can set an intermediate point between each fan's high and low limits. I'd like a few more points to work with, but this is a good start, and Asus has shown a definite desire to continue improving the fan controls available on its boards. For models like the P8H67-I Deluxe, which seems ripe for the living room, robust fan speed controls are a must.
Overclocking options aren't as important for this class of motherboard, but they're offered in AI Suite's TurboV EVO component. This auto-tuner will take care of boosting clocks on Sandy Bridge's integrated GPU, but don't expect much. The Sandy Bridge IGP has issues that can't be fixed by jacking the clock speed alone. If you want a real graphics upgrade, the Deluxe has a PCI Express x16 slot that will readily accept a proper graphics card.
Although Asus' Windows software is really rather good, it's cheapened by an advertisement for Norton Internet Security 2011. This bright yellow screen is the first thing that pops up whenever you load up the menu on the driver CD, and I hope Symantec paid handsomely for the billboard. Don't get your hopes up for a full version of Norton's latest software, either; it's just a 60-day trial. The installer keeps that little detail to itself until Norton has finished installing. Yeah, that's special.