A few weeks ago, I traveled to Fremont, California to preview Asus' Haswell motherboards. My lips were supposed to be sealed until Haswell's official launch in early June. However, other motherboard makers have been dropping details about their 8-series lineups, and Asus has decided to join them. We can now give you an early look at the company's Z87 boards.
While any discussion of Haswell and its accompanying platform are off the table, there is plenty to discuss about the motherboards alone. Let's start with the new color scheme, which is apparently important enough to deserve its own press release.
The color combo is a reference to Asus' "gold standard in quality," but it reminds me of the 1978 Firebird Trans Am. Maybe that's not an entirely bad thing. The gold-anodized heatsinks look quite nice in person; they're just the right tone and not too shiny. As the picture illustrates, though, the plastic ports are a tad beige and don't really match. These boards are more attractive when obscured by the dark shadows of a fully loaded enclosure than naked and out in the open—like most people, I suppose.
As one might expect, Asus will roll out a full range of boards spanning Mini-ITX, microATX, and ATX form factors. The Deluxe pictured above is the top ATX model that doesn't belong to Asus' separate TUF or ROG product families. It boasts plenty of toys, including wicked-fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi and more 6Gbps SATA and USB 3.0 ports than any sane person should need.
Asus hasn't made dramatic changes to the firmware found on the Deluxe and its other Z87 boards, but there are a few enhancements worth noting. The UEFI now summarizes any changes that have been made before you exit. There's also a favorites tab that can be populated with frequently used functions. Users can save text notes within the firmware, too, and the interface looks a little bit sharper thanks to scaling and font changes.
In addition to tweaking the firmware, Asus has reworked its AI Suite software. There's a new interface that consolidates overclocking, power management, and fan controls in a single window. The built-in system tuner is capable of making optimizations in all those areas automatically, which should help newbies settle on a well-rounded config.
Haswell is getting plenty of love from ROG boards, including the more affordable Maximus VI Hero pictured above. While it's not as exotic as higher-end ROG models like the Extreme, the Hero nonetheless features SupremeFX integrated audio. This onboard implementation sports fancy capacitors, isolated motherboard traces, and a new Realtek codec. It also comes with Sonic Radar software, which uses an on-screen overlay to map game audio in two dimensions. The software can be tuned to track different sounds, such as footsteps, gunfire, and the beeping of a Counter-Strike detonator. Sounds show up on the overlaid radar, giving multiplayer gamers an edge.
I only tried Sonic Radar briefly, but it appears to work as advertised. Something tells me it's going to cause a stir in competitive gaming circles. Asus says the software could move to its ROG sound cards, as well.
The Hero will sell for around $200, which is a lot less than the price tag attached to the Maximus VI Extreme. Instead of SupremeFX audio, the Extreme offers gobs of PCIe connectivity via PLX bridge silicon, an onboard mini combo slot compatible with NGFF M.2 SSDs, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. This board also comes with Asus' OC Panel, an external overclocking and monitoring device designed for hardcore tweakers. The OC Panel can stand on its own or slide into a 5.25" bay, and it's compatible with all the ROG boards. Only the Extreme will ship with it in the box, though.
There are two TUF boards in Asus' Haswell lineup. The first is the Sabertooth Z87, an ATX model peppered with premium electrical components, thermal armor, auxiliary temperature probes, and dust covers for all the slots. Asus has also filled the ports with dust plugs, tweaked the position of the circuit board's ventilation holes, and added adjustable ducting around the CPU socket.
In a nod to those with heavy CPU coolers, Asus has reinforced the Sabertooth with a Fortifier back plate that covers almost the full extent of the board. This plate is designed to combat warping, and it purportedly decreases CPU temperatures by a couple of degrees. It also protects your fingers from the exposed solder tips that line the back of the mobo.
If some of those accessories seem a bit excessive, you might be interested in the new TUF Gryphon. This microATX mobo has the same board-level components and features as the full-sized Sabertooth, but without extras like thermal armor, the metal back plate, all those dust covers, and so on. The full suite of accessories can be purchased as a separate kit, allowing the Gryphon board to hit a lower price point.
The Gryphon harkens back to simpler TUF boards like the original Sabertooth X58, and it's already on my shortlist of potential review candidates. So are a couple of other models, including a top-secret design that's still hush-hush. I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.
There is more I'm allowed to say about Asus' Haswell boards, but my time is limited. Asus' decision to lift the lid on its Z87 offerings came at the last minute, and I still have to pack for an early morning flight to another motherboard preview event. Eagle-eyed readers should be able to spot more details by flipping through the board shots in the gallery below.