Biostar’s Hi-Fi Z97WE motherboard reviewed

Biostar isn’t the first name that comes to mind when thinking about motherboards. For most PC enthusiasts, it’s probably not the second, the third, or even the fourth. The company has been cranking out mobos for almost three decades, though, and its offerings are consistently among the most affordable.

Take the new Hi-Fi Z97WE, for example. Despite its $124.99 asking price, this Haswell board employs Intel’s high-end Z97 Express chipset. Overclocking is fully endorsed for K-series CPUs and the Anniversary Edition Pentium that’s been making the rounds lately. There’s no need to worry about microcode updates nixing the unofficial overclocking support found in some other budget Haswell boards.

Those lower-end candidates typically lack support for multi-GPU configurations, but the Z97WE can split the CPU’s PCIe lanes for dual-card configs. It has an M.2 slot ready for next-gen SSDs, too, plus a handful of little touches. Though hardly unique, these attributes are rarely found together on a board so cheap.

The word “cheap” has multiple connotations. The first description in the Oxford dictionary refers to something that is “low in price, especially in relation to similar items.” That sounds like a bargain. But the term can also describe something that is “inexpensive because of inferior quality,” which is considerably less appealing.

So, which is the Hi-Fi Z97WE? We’ve been testing the board to find out, and you might be surprised by what we’ve learned.

At first glance, the Z97WE looks much like any other enthusiast board. All the usual ingredients are sprinkled on, right down to the blingy heatsinks on the chipset and voltage regulation circuitry. This thing may not win any beauty contests, but the layout is reasonably good, with evenly distributed fan headers and sensibly arranged slots and ports.

The socket region is mostly free of obstructions, but the DIMM slots are a couple millimeters closer than on some of the other Z97 boards we’ve tested. They’re still outside the restricted zone, so standard-height DIMMs shouldn’t bump into typical CPU coolers. However, taller modules may interfere with aftermarket coolers that spill outside that area.

The VRM heatsinks are short enough to stay out of the way, and there’s a reasonable amount of room between the CPU socket and the top expansion slots. Clearances shouldn’t be an issue for most builds.

Widely spaced PCIe x16 slots provide plenty of breathing room for duallie graphics configs. Solitary cards installed in the first slot have access to all 16 lanes in the CPU, while two-way setups shift the board into a dual-x8 mode that supports Crossfire configs. The split lanes should have sufficient bandwidth for dual GeForce cards, but the Z97WE lacks SLI certification, so it’s blacklisted by Nvidia’s GPU teaming scheme.

Even with two double-wide graphics cards installed, the Z97WE has room for a trio of additional expansion cards. It’s hard to imagine anyone needing two PCI slots, though. PCIe peripherals are pretty ubiquitous these days.

At least the M.2 slot looks toward the future. The notebook-style interface supports PCIe and SATA drives, which have access to 1GB/s of bandwidth via the Z97.

Instead of mixing in SATA Express, Biostar opts for a standard array of 6Gbps ports. No complaints here. SATA Express devices aren’t expected to arrive en masse until next year, and M.2 drives are likely to be more attractive for most builds.

Biostar gets a tip of the hat for including a POST code display, socketed firmware chip, and onboard power and reset buttons. But it also gets a wag of the finger for leaving out wiring blocks for the front-panel headers and a cushioned EMI shield for the rear I/O panel. Those extras make system assembly much easier, and they should add only pennies to the mobo’s bill of materials.

The Z97WE’s “Hi-Fi” component combines an older Realtek ALC892 audio codec with an EMI shield, audio-specific capacitors, isolated traces, and a headphone amplifier. Those enhancements are common for modern enthusiast boards, and they look great on paper. However, there appears to be an issue with the headphone amp on our unit. The analog audio quality is decent enough with the stereo out configured for speakers, but setting that output to headphone mode introduces audible interference when there’s a heavy graphics load.

There are no problems when the CPU is fully engaged, just when the graphics card is revved up. The card’s power draw seems to be related, as well. The interference is very noticeable with our test rig’s GeForce GTX 680 but only faintly audible with a low-end Radeon R7 250.

We encountered a similar issue on an ultra-high-end Z87 board not long ago, so I’m not inclined to blame the Z97WE’s budget status. We’ve notified Biostar about the interference, but the firm hasn’t been able to reproduce it.

All the usual ports appear in the rear I/O cluster. The twin GigE connectors are powered by Realtek chips, which isn’t surprising at this end of the market. Intel and Qualcomm networking solutions are typically restricted to more premium boards. Even so, the Z97WE’s networking performance is similar to that of pricier alternatives, at least in our tests.

Digital S/PDIF audio outs are a relative rarity on low-end fare, so it’s nice to see one on the Z97WE. Too bad it doesn’t support on-the-fly encoding for multichannel audio, which rules out surround-sound gaming. The Realtek drivers can fake the effect with speaker virtualization, but it’s just not the same.

Now, let’s see how the Z97WE’s firmware and software stack up…

Low-rent tweaking

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.

Overclocking

Unlike most enthusiast boards, the Z97WE lacks a hands-off tuning mechanism that overclocks the CPU automatically. Overclocking is a strictly manual affair… except when the board does it on the sly. The firmware defaults set the base frequency to 100.5MHz, a smidgen above Intel’s 100MHz spec. This bump has a minimal impact on CPU clock speeds—and certainly less of one than the illicit Turbo manipulation favored by some mobo makers—but it’s still a lame attempt to gain an unfair advantage. Motherboards should adhere to the processor’s stock specifications unless explicitly told to do otherwise.

There’s nothing wrong with intentional overclocking, of course. We do it all the time. The Core i7-4770K used in our motherboard reviews is usually good for 4.5-4.7GHz before it starts bouncing between thermal throttling and BSOD errors. Applying too little CPU voltage compromises stability under load, while using too much overwhelms our Corsair H80 water cooler, which can’t dissipate heat fast enough for the chip to maintain its peak Turbo speed.

The same CPU behaved similarly on the Z97WE, which was stable at 4.5GHz but typically troublesome at 4.6GHz. More importantly, little effort was required to push the chip to its limit. We made it to 4.3GHz with multiplier tweaking alone. The firmware increased the CPU voltage automatically, but it didn’t go past 1.229V, which proved insufficient for our usual stress test.

Feeding the CPU 1.255V got it to 4.5GHz without further tweaking. The system was perfectly stable at that speed, which it maintained for several minutes under a combined CPU and GPU load. 4.6GHz produced BSOD errors until we dialed the CPU up to 1.325V, though. That voltage sent CPU temperatures past the throttling threshold, resulting in momentary dips in the frequency. No amount of fiddling with the other voltage and power settings got the rig stable at 4.6GHz.

Power consumption

We measured power draw at the wall socket with our test system at idle, then playing a 1080p YouTube video, and finally under a full load combining Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo. The Hi-Fi Z97WE was tested against Z97 boards from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI, plus an Asus Z87-PRO from the previous generation. You can find our detailed reviews of all those boards right here.

The Z97WE has slightly lower power consumption than most of its peers at idle and with our lighter load. Only Asus’ excellent Z97-A draws less juice under those conditions.

When the CPU and GPU are fully utilized, the Biostar board ties for the highest power consumption of the bunch. The deltas are too small to affect a typical utility bill, but they are a good indicator of motherboard power efficiency. Less power also translates to less heat, which can allow temperature-controlled fans to spin slower and quieter.

Performance

We’re known for going a little overboard with benchmarks here at TR, but that seems increasingly pointless for motherboard reviews. As long as they’re running the system components clocked at the same speeds, mobos have little influence on application and gaming performance. Boards based on the same chipset tend to have identical peripheral performance, too, since most of the I/O is handled by that chip.

There are occasional exceptions to the norm, which is why we still run motherboards through a suite of application, gaming, and peripheral tests. As expected, the Z97WE scores just as well as the other Z97 contenders we’ve tested. The differences between it and the competition are often smaller than the run-to-run variance, making graphs pretty pointless.

That said, we did run into an odd quirk in one of our SATA tests. The Z97WE posted a much slower random read speed than its peers, but only hooked up to the Samsung 830 Series SSD we’ve been using for motherboard benching. The board was just as fast as the competition our other storage tests, and its random read performance was competitive with a couple of other SSDs.

MSI’s Z97 Gaming 7 exhibited the same behavior, so the quirk isn’t limited to the Z97WE. The SSD’s dated firmware may be a contributing factor. Motherboard power-saving measures could play a role, as well. For what it’s worth, we test with Intel’s Dynamic Storage Accelerator enabled. This feature is supposed to prevent the CPU’s lower-power states from hindering I/O throughput.

The following page is filled with detailed board specifications and nerdy details about our test systems. It doesn’t make for particularly engaging reading, so we won’t be offended if you skip ahead to the conclusion.

Detailed specifications

We’ve covered all of the essential deals about the Hi-Fi Z97WE already, but here’s the full spec sheet in case we missed anything:

Platform Intel Z97 Express, socket LGA1150
DIMM slots 4 DDR3, 32GB max
Expansion slots 2 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU (x16/x0, x8/x8)

2 PCIe 2.0 x1 via Z97 Express

2 PCI

Storage I/O 1 M.2 via Z97 Express (SATA and PCIe)

6 SATA RAID 6Gbps via Z97 Express

Audio 8-channel HD via Realtek ALC892

Surround virtualization via Realtek drivers

Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

1 VGA via CPU

1 DVI-D via CPU

1 HDMI 1.4a via CPU

2 USB 3.0 via Z97 Express

2 USB 3.0 via internal headers via Z97 Express

2 USB 2.0 via Z97 Express

4 USB 2.0 via internal headers Z97 Express

2 Gigabit Ethernet via 2 x Realtek RTL8111G

1 analog front/headphone out (amplified)

4 configurable analog ports

1 digital S/PDIF out

Overclocking All/per-core Turbo multiplier: 35-80X

CPU strap: 1, 1.25, 1.66, 2.5X

Base clock: 50-540MHz

Ring frequency: 1000-8000MHz

DRAM: 1066-2933MHz

CPU voltage: 0.001-2V

Ring voltage: 0.001-2V

System agent voltage: 1.5-2.65V

IOA offset voltage: 0.001-0.998V

IOD offset voltage: 0.001-0.998V

DRAM voltage: 1.3-2.295V

PCH voltage: 0.625-1.365V

PCH PLL voltage: 1.25-1.815V

DDR channel A,B DQ offset: -0.2-+0.025V

DDR channel A,B CA offset: -0.2-+0.025V

Fan control 2x CPU fans:

Predefined quiet, aggressive profiles

Manual profile with on/off temp, start PWM value, sensitivity

4x system fans (shared):

Manual profile with on/off/active PWM values, on/off temp

Our testing methods

We used the following system configurations for testing.

Processor Intel Core i7-4770K
Motherboard Asus Z87-PRO Asus Z97-A Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H MSI Z97 Gaming 7
Firmware revision 1802 0604 Z97AF516 F6b 1.1B1
Platform hub Z87 Express Z97 Express Z97 Express Z97 Express Z97 Express
Chipset drivers Chipset: 10.0

RST: 13.0

Chipset: 10.0

RST: 13.0

Chipset: 10.0

RST: 13.0

Chipset: 10.0

RST: 13.0

Chipset: 10.0

RST: 13.0

Audio Realtek ALC1180 Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC1150 Realtek ALC1150
Memory size 16GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-27-1T
Graphics Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II with 335.23 drivers
Storage Corsair Force Series GT 120GB

Samsung 830 Series 256GB

Power supply Corsair AX850 850W
Operating system Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro x64

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Samsung, and Asus for providing the hardware used in our test systems. And thanks to the motherboard makers for providing those.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

Some further notes on our test methods:

  • All testing was conducted with motherboard power-saving options enabled. These features can sometimes lead to slightly slower performance, particularly in peripheral tests that don’t cause the CPU to kick into high gear. We’d rather get a sense of motherboard performance with real-world configurations, though; we’re not as interested in comparing contrived setups with popular features disabled.
  • DiRT Showdown was tested with ultra detail settings, 4X MSAA, and a 1920×1200 display resolution. We used Fraps to log a 60-second snippet of gameplay from the demo’s first race. To offset the fact that our gameplay sequence can’t be repeated exactly, we ran this test five times on each system.
  • Power consumption was measured at the wall socket for the complete system, sans monitor and speakers, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Our video playback load used this 1080p YouTube trailer for the movie Looper. The full-load test combined Cinebench’s multithreaded CPU rendering test with the Unigine Valley DirectX 11 demo running in a 1280×720 window.
  • The Force GT 120GB SSD was used as the system drive for all tests. The Samsung 830 Series 256GB was connected as secondary storage to test Serial ATA and USB performance, the latter through a USAP-compatible Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking station. The Samsung SSD was secure-erased before each test that involved it. The Corsair drive was also wiped before we loaded our system image.
  • Ethernet performance was tested using a remote rig based on an Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard with an Intel 82579 Gigabit Ethernet controller. A single Cat 6 Ethernet cable connected that system to each motherboard.
  • Analog audio signal quality was tested using RMAA’s “loopback” test, which pipes front-channel output through the board’s line input. We tested while the system was loaded with Cinebench’s multithreaded rendering test, the Unigine Valley benchmark, and a CrystalDiskMark 4KB random I/O test running on the Samsung SSD attached via USB 3.0.
  • Power consumption was tested using a Watt’s Up Pro power meter. Our idle measurement represents the low over a five-minute period. For YouTube playback, we reported the median power consumption for the length of the video. For our full load test, we reported the peak power consumption during the Cinebench benchmark run.

The tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. All tests except power consumption were run at least three times. Unless otherwise indicated, we reported the median result for each test. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Conclusions

In a lot of ways, the Hi-Fi Z97WE looks like a pretty good deal. It offers an affordable path to Intel’s high-end Z97 chipset and takes advantage of all the associated perks, including support not only for next-gen storage devices, but also for future Broadwell CPUs. Despite its budget price tag, the board is no slower than its pricier peers. And it’s a capable overclocker, at least for the multiplier tuning preferred by most folks.

The Z97WE doesn’t have a stripped-down spec, either. You get dual GigE connectors, solid M.2 storage support, beefed up audio, and a smattering of little touches typically missing from motherboards in this price range. Getting all that for only $124.99 looks like the good kind of cheap.

The thing is, motherboards are more than just checkmarks on a feature list and numbers in a benchmark spreadsheet. They’re central to the experience of building and tuning a PC, a process that relies heavily on firmware and software. The Z97WE’s firmware covers the basics for overclocking, but the fan controls are somewhat limited, and the interface is uninspired.

At least the firmware is better than the software, which is several years old in some cases. Biostar’s Windows tweaking utility and parts of its Android app don’t work for us. A handful of other bundled applications do, but they add little value to the overall package.

The Hi-Fi Z97WE’s competitive hardware is ultimately let down by the accompanying firmware and software. Those rough edges are likely to frustrate less experienced users, and they’ll disappoint anyone who has played with Z97 boards from the biggest names in the business. Using the Z97WE is a little like being in a time warp. You get the latest and greatest hardware in a product that feels one or two generations behind.

That combination might be tolerable to folks with specific hardware requirements and strict budgets, but I don’t recommend it. You’re better off spending a little bit more for a superior overall experience.

Comments closed
    • Euro_Bucks
    • 5 years ago

    Awesome review. When all of those famous brands are fancying about designs on their 9 series. Here comes Biostar’s offering will a full pack features at a very reasonable price.

    • Dissonance
    • 5 years ago

    So, it turns out that Biostar’s Bio Remote 2 software works. Sort of. We were using the Bio Remote (1?) software that appears on the board’s download page, but that’s just for IR remotes. Biostar puts the Bio Remote 2 utility in a completely different section of its website that isn’t linked by the Z97WE product page. (http://www.biostar.com.tw/app/en/event/bio-remote2/download.htm)

    With correct remote server software installed, we’ve been able to get the Android app working with our test system, at least for remote keyboard/mouse input and media control. Remote overclocking isn’t functional, presumably because of issues with the T-Overclocker Windows utility. We’ve updated the review to reflect our latest experiences, which don’t change our overall impressions of the board.

    • Freon
    • 5 years ago

    USB 4.0? Did I miss a meeting?

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      Just when I think no one reads the spec sheet… Fixed.

    • just brew it!
    • 5 years ago

    Looking at the board layout, the placement of the shielded “Hi-Fi” audio section is curious as well. Locating it so far away from the audio jacks kind of negates the point of shielding it in the first place, since there will necessarily be analog signal traces running between the shielded section and the jacks.

    Y’know what I’d like to see? Someone should put the audio chip (along with some power conditioning circuitry) inside the metal housing that holds the back panel audio jacks. That would provide better isolation from interference than any of these other half-assed schemes.

    • ronch
    • 5 years ago

    Is this a review or a mini-review?

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      What’s the difference?

        • ronch
        • 5 years ago

        Well, TBH, I think this is more of a quick review, Geoff. Being a ‘Hi-Fi’ product, there should at least be a section showing some audio testing to prove just how ‘Hi-Fi’ this thing is, price notwithstanding. That’s what I looked for, actually. And TBH again, this is the first motherboard review that just says “oh, it runs just as well as the other guys” in the Performance section. Ok, maybe graphs are starting to feel redundant, but come on, that’s the norm. That’s procedure.

          • Dissonance
          • 5 years ago

          As we do with all motherboards, we ran our RMAA signal quality tests and did some casual listening with a bunch of music. Apart from the interference we encountered with heavy graphics loads and the headphone mode, there isn’t anything to report. In RMAA, the Z97WE scored pretty much identically to the other Z97 boards we’ve tested.

          Despite the name, there’s really nothing more “Hi-Fi” about this board than other modern offerings. Most enthusiast boards have isolated traces, extra shielding, separate amplifiers, and the like.

    • Wall Street
    • 5 years ago

    I am posting this on a machine with a Biostar TPower i55 motherboard (P55 chipset, Core i5-750). I think that Biostar gets a worse rep that it deserves. Somewhat like AMD’s GPUs, the hardware is a real bargain for the money but the software sucks. A long time ago I used an ECS motherboard, and that traumatic experience drove me to the name brands, But I really feel that Biostar is up at the ASRock and MSI level with their hardware, but don’t have the marketing or history to get most users to try them.

    If the software that goes with this board is anything like the software for mine, then don’t bother installing it. But, if you do a quick Google search, you will find that historically ASUS’ software had a memory leak that would consume your entire system RAM after a few days and Gigabyte software has DPC latency issues if the CPU temp is in a certain range. Fortunately, with motherboards you don’t need to use the software. My Biostar board replaced a Gigabyte board that suddenly died (all USB ports stopped working). On my first install, I used the Biostar utilities, and it was a big mistake, but on my second install I only used the drivers that Windows installed and the machine has been even more trouble free than the Gigabyte.

    The only thing that I think is missing from the reviewed motherboard is a better Realtek audio codec. The ALC1150 should really be what manufacturers are putting in the better boards. On the other hand, look at what the other manufacturers offer at $125 and you will see that you are getting a ton of hardware for the money with this board. For example, ASUS seems to use 4-phase power and is missing features like digital audio out and dual lan ports at this pricepoint in the Z97-K.

      • ronch
      • 5 years ago

      I think boasting ‘Hi-Fi’ credentials and using an ALC892 is somewhat sneeky. Screw the EMI shield, the ALC892 has no business in a Hi-Fi setup. And no matter what anyone says, a good sound card beats any integrated audio solution in terms of crispness, separation, clarity, amplification (in my experience, motherboard audio is somewhat less loud than my last two sound cards… an Audigy Value and an X-Fi Titanium PCIe), and richness. I want to think that integrated audio solutions have caught up with, say, a proper sound card such as one based on X-Fi, but no… it just hasn’t. I just plugged my X-Fi back after using my Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3’s Realtek ALC889 (108db SNR for the DACs) for six months. The Realtek’s fine, for sure, but the X-Fi simply sounds better in every aspect.

        • just brew it!
        • 5 years ago

        Yeah, no kidding. They could’ve at least used one of VIA’s Envy audio chips. Realtek has improved to the point where they are generally “good enough” these days, but the best sounding onboard sound implementations I’ve heard have been VIA-based. Too bad almost nobody uses VIA audio chips any more.

        The noisy headphone amp is a complete joke on a product that claims to be “Hi-Fi”. I wonder if they are using the ALC892’s built-in headphone amp (yes, it has one…) or a discrete one. I’ve not noticed any GPU noise/interference issues specific to the integrated headphone amp on any Realtek-based onboard implementations I’ve used in the past ~5 years, but I tend to run fairly low-spec GPUs so maybe the issue is there and I just haven’t hit it.

          • ronch
          • 5 years ago

          I’d actually buy a board just out of curiosity for its audio codec. I once bought an ECS AM2+ board out of curiosity over its IDT codec. It didn’t sound very good but at least I experienced having an IDT codec.

          That said, I’d be glad to try VIA’s top of the line codec, the VT2021, and see just how well it stacks up. But as you’ve said, yeah, it’s practically impossible to find a board with anything other than a Realtek codec.

            • just brew it!
            • 5 years ago

            I’ve never bought a motherboard solely for its onboard codec. But all else being equal, I suppose the presence of a non-Realtek codec might sway my decision.

            Curiously, the (relatively new) [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131942<]Asus M5A78L-M/USB3[/url<] AM3+ board has a VIA audio codec on it. I suspect that this mobo is a light respin of the venerable M3A78-CM AM2+ board, given the VIA audio codec, dated IGP and southbridge, and expansion slot layout. Just thought I'd mention it, since you're an AMD fan. (M3A78-CM was an incredible bang for the buck back in the day.)

            • ronch
            • 5 years ago

            Well, I’m not out for a new board right now, and hopefully won’t be for a while. Still, I hope to be able to try VIA, even on a cheap Tremor-based card.

      • crabjokeman
      • 5 years ago

      Biostar’s T-series has good bang/$. After some bad experiences with Asus and MSI midrange boards, Biostar has become a personal favorite (still missing Abit and Epox though).

    • TwoEars
    • 5 years ago

    Looks decent I suppose, but I’d rather spend a little extra and get an extra durable asus, gigabyte or msi. Peace of mind if nothing else.

    • krazyredboy
    • 5 years ago

    Nice Stephen Colbert reference.

    • Meadows
    • 5 years ago

    While I don’t think of Biostar as a particularly big name in the industry, there’s still no excuse for such user interface design.

    On a separate note, Geoff, not sure if you guys are looking for suggestions but here’s one: how about testing frequency and power consistency on motherboards? (Because benchmarking them is indeed becoming pointless.)

    For example, does it run components at the intended frequencies set in the UEFI? Does it deliver the claimed voltages? (PSU issues notwithstanding.) Do voltages sag under load, and if so, how much? Do the caps make audible noises under load? (Especially for cheap boards.) What range is available to the user when setting clock speeds? Can you overclock the individual busses (e.g. PCIe) and if so, by how much? When overclocking, is there any built-in fail-safe in case you mess up?

    Most of those laid out in charts. Just an idea.

      • Meadows
      • 5 years ago

      I admit some of those look like PSU metrics, but you never know when a motherboard may screw up the same thing.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 5 years ago

      Graceful overclock fail recovery testing would be nice.

      I do think some peripheral testing can still be relevant though because different motherboards may have components hooked up in different ways. I recall one recent mobo test here that showed worse than expected network benchmarks. (I think the Killer NIC was to blame, but regardless of why it’s good to know.) USB 3.0 port speed is another example.

    • sschaem
    • 5 years ago

    So the H80 water cooler cant keep this CPU cool enough at 4.6ghz and you get thermally throttled?
    Was the H80 equipped with high performance fans and set on high performance?

    It seem like this CPU must output a huge amount of heat, or the heat transfer from die to heatsink is not very good?
    (I guess I’m just surprised that a 4 core CPU at 4.6ghz overwhelm this H80…)

      • Stickmansam
      • 5 years ago

      This is the Haswell i7 4770K with crappy TIM…

      While I got lucky with my Haswell, most are hotter than Ivy which was already pretty hot

        • sschaem
        • 5 years ago

        Blushing.. I totally missed that, I was fixated that this was tested with a i7-4790k
        [url<]http://images.anandtech.com/doci/8227/4%20Temp%20Comparison_575px.png[/url<] Going on a tangent, but I want to note that getting that extra 700mhz over stock, cost about 50watt. [url<]http://images.anandtech.com/doci/8227/5%20i5-4690K%20OC_575px.png[/url<] Relatively to the rated TDP of 88w, thats a pretty massive jump for <20% gain.

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      We don’t use especially high-performance fans with the H80, but for overclocking tests, we do kick the cooler up to full speed via the button on the CPU slug.

    • UberGerbil
    • 5 years ago

    On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person like me who doesn’t install any of the motherboard utilities (or only installs them temporarily for initial configuration / testing purposes) this is not a bad deal. That said, I’m not sure where Biostar currently sits on the reliability scale — both in terms of the hardware and things like BIOS updates. The uninspired / dated software certainly doesn’t help my impression there.

      • dragosmp
      • 5 years ago

      Same here, the last motherboard-supplied piece of software I’ve used is Gigabyte’s EasyTune 6 maybe 4-5 years ago. I find there are quite a few free utilities that do the same job faster and better.

      So this begs the question, how much value do we place on software? Me not much as long as the firmware is good and stable and the manual OC-ing settings are precise.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 5 years ago

        I’m running Asus’ Thermal Radar 2 software with my Gryphon Z97 to get the programmable fan curves. The Windows software allows a wider range of adjustment than the BIOS curves do.

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      Personally, I wish they would get rid of all those garbage utilities. Just give me features that can be accessed via the native OS.

        • Chrispy_
        • 5 years ago

        This.
        If the damn things even work properly they look like they’ve been skinned for a Windows98 UI by an “artist” who thinks that more fonts = better

          • Deanjo
          • 5 years ago

          Even better would them to publicly publish the specs and documentation to access those extra features so that third parties can easily develop an app for controlling those features in any OS.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      yeah since I don’t do any in-Windows tweaking and prefer to rely on Speedfan for monitoring, there’s no drawback to the software bundle for me.

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