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Tweaking options
Asus' UEFI has evolved steadily since it was introduced with the first Sandy Bridge motherboards. The iteration that debuted with Haswell is a nice incremental improvement, and its upgrades have been passed along to the X79-Deluxe. In fact, Asus' new firmware features have also trickled down to its older X79 boards. The latest firmware for the nearly two-year-old P9X79 Pro looks identical to the UEFI for the X79-Deluxe.

The EZ interface pictured above has a limited selection of options, but the UI includes a few fancy elements that make good use of mouse input. Unlike on some motherboard firmware, the mouse tracking is smooth, and the UI feels fast and responsive.

Seasoned enthusiasts will want to manipulate their systems via the advanced interface, which more closely resembles an old-school BIOS. The familiar surroundings hide plenty of new features, including a configurable favorites pane.

You can add just about any firmware option to the favorites tab. The process is simple, too: just hit F4 or right click the mouse when the option is selected. Given the sheer volume of variables in the main menus, it's definitely worth populating the favorites tab.

Most of the enthusiasts I know take notes while tweaking. I've seen settings scribbled on hipster Moleskine notepads, on fluorescent Post-it notes, and even on the backs of napkins. Plenty of folks use text editors, too, and Asus puts one right in the UEFI. The Quick Note function allows users to edit, er, quick notes via the firmware interface. Clicking the Quick Note button brings up the basic text editor.

There's also a Last Modified button linked to a summary of the changes made since the last reboot.

This change log has quickly become one of my favorite firmware features; it nicely counters my OCD tendency to double-check changes while overclocking. The log also pops up automatically when you exit the UEFI, providing confirmation before settings are saved.

We've been particularly vocal about recent motherboards defying Intel's default Turbo multipliers and sneakily increasing clock speeds behind the user's back. The X79-Deluxe behaves as long as you stay away from the memory frequency. However, if you define the DRAM speed manually, the CPU shifts into "Sync All Cores" mode and applies the single-core Turbo multiplier to all loads. That alteration boosts the Core i7-4960X's all-core frequency by 300MHz, and Intel considers the practice overclocking.

At least Asus doesn't hide the change. All the core ratio limits pictured above pop up outta nowhere when the memory speed is defined, suggesting that trickery is afoot. Returning to the default Turbo behavior is as easy as switching the CPU Core Ratio back to Auto, which collapses the ratio limits but leaves the desired memory speed intact.

Asus' version of illicit Turbo juicing is less annoying than some of the others we've encountered, but it still seems silly that changing the memory speed automatically overclocks the CPU. Oh, the things motherboard makers do to inflate benchmark scores.

The funky Turbo nonsense is my only complaint about the firmware. Otherwise, the UEFI has everything enthusiasts need: loads of tweaking and overclocking options, a built-in flashing utility, and support for multiple profiles. The temperature-based fan speed controls are great, too, but they're easily overshadowed by Asus' latest Windows software.

Motherboard software used to be pretty awful. It's improved dramatically in recent years, though, and Asus deserves much of the credit for the revolution. Fan Xpert 2 is a perfect example of why. First, the software tests the fans connected to the board to get a sense of the range of RPMs on tap. You can then drag multiple points along each fan's speed profile to adjust the reaction to changes in temperature. There are even sliders to adjust how aggressively each fan speeds up and slows down, so users can tune system cooling for responsive performance or gradual acoustic transitions.

Dialing in your ideal cooling configuration has never been easier.

Fan Xpert 2 is part of the Dual Intelligent Processors 4 software that the X79-Deluxe shares with Asus' Haswell motherboards. This application also has a wealth of performance tuning options.

Even seasoned enthusiasts would do well to start their overclocking exploits with 4-Way Optimization, Asus' latest auto-overclocker. This multi-pronged optimization tool draws on intelligence gathered by the company's in-house overclocking efforts to push CPUs to their limits. Clock speeds, voltages, and power settings are all manipulated automatically as the software strives for higher speeds. The automated overclocker tests stability along the way and does a good job of running unattended.

The auto-tuner won't find the absolute limits of your hardware, but in our experience, it comes pretty close. At the very least, the software provides a good starting point from which to proceed with more aggressive overclocking. Speaking of which...

How's that for a manual overclocking interface? The TPU tab has a little bit of everything: load-based multipliers, BCLK control, CPU strap options, and voltages out the wazoo. There's a separate power tab that exposes load-line calibration, phase controls, and various current limits. Loading each tab takes a few seconds—a delay required to poll the system, apparently—but it's smooth sailing after that. Everything about the UI feels slick and professional.

With many options at our fingertips, we couldn't resist turning the screws on our Core i7-4960X. Next up: overclocking.