A refined tweaking experience
Much of the X99 Deluxe's firmware and software is inherited from Asus' Z97 boards, but that's hardly a disappointment. Asus routinely has some of the best motherboard firmware and software around.
The only thing that's really lacking is the resolution of the firmware interface. It's 2014, Asus; time to move beyond 1024x768. The GUI looks surprisingly good in spite of its limited pixel array, but the text and graphics just aren't as crisp as on the 1080p firmware available with some competing boards. It sounds like Asus plans to surpass that resolution by scaling all the way up to 4K with its next-gen firmware. If that happens, there's no guarantee the upgrade will trickle down to the X99 Deluxe.
What the firmware lacks in resolution it makes up in usability. The EZ interface pictured above contains a basic assortment of monitoring and control options along with shortcuts to key features like fan speed control and automatic system tuning. More experienced users should stick to the advanced interface, which has fine-tuning options for just about every system variable open to adjustment.
Multiplier, frequency, and voltage options abound in the advanced UI. The layout is logical, and users can roll their own custom assortment of options in the Favorites tab. They can also track changes using a "Last Modified" function that details adjustments made during the previous tweaking session. Upon exit, the firmware displays a list of changes made during the current session. Pretty slick.
Most enthusiasts expect that modifying one firmware setting won't alter unrelated variables, so I have to point out that the X99 Deluxe boosts the CPU's Turbo multipliers when the memory frequency is changed. This illicit overclocking is nothing new—motherboard makers have been doing it for years—but it's still an annoying and ultimately undesirable trait. At least the firmware's default configuration observes the CPU's stock Turbo multipliers, which is more than can be said for some of the shadier overclocking schemes we've encountered.
Apart from the addition of more fan headers and temperature probes via the expansion module, the fan speed controls mirror those of Asus' other 9-series boards. Three-pin DC and four-pin PWM spinners both work with the fan control logic, and there's a built-in calibration routine to determine the exact speed range of each connected fan. Users can rely on pre-baked configs or create their own three-point profile with the easy-to-use GUI. Dipping into the advanced interface unlocks the ability to define the reference temperature associated with each fan.
The only catch is that the CPU and CPU_OPT headers share the same profile. That's fine for push/pull fan duos, but it's less ideal for pump-and-radiator combos, especially those that rely on a mix DC and PWM connectors. For water coolers with multiple components, Asus recommends plugging fans into the CPU headers and pumps into the chassis headers.
Motherboard firmware is a lot more approachable now than it was even a few years ago, but some users still prefer tweaking system settings from the familiar confines of Windows. There, Asus' AI Suite software combines much of the firmware's functionality along with a bunch of other perks.
The fan controls are bolstered by adjustable spin-up and spin-down times for each header. Increasing those intervals smooths out the fan response to changes in temperature, preventing brief spikes from producing audible oscillations in rotational speed. The name and location of each fan can also be defined, which should help to organize loaded rigs use all the available headers. Too bad AI Suite can't alter the reference temperature for each fan header.
In addition to serving up fan speed controls, AI Suite is loaded with overclocking and power options. The CPU voltage options are presented particularly well, with visual graphs illustrating how prescribed offset and "OC" voltages are applied as the CPU's Turbo multipliers engage. Other variables can be altered by dragging mouse-friendly sliders or inputting specific values directly with the keyboard.
The power controls cover functions like load-line calibration and current limits. As in the firmware, there are separate options for the circuitry feeding the processor and system memory. There's even a GPU overclocking panel built in, though you'll need a compatible Asus graphics card to take advantage of it.
If you're shy about making changes manually, Asus' auto-tuning wizard can take the reins. A version of it is included in the firmware, and the software implementation is even more robust. It scales up clock speeds iteratively and tests stability at each step, just like an enthusiast would. The auto-tuning engine is also highly configurable, with options to adjust temperature thresholds, voltage limits, and whether to start ramping up from the stock frequency or a higher speed. The duration and nature of the stress test can be altered, as well, and a strenuous AVX test has been added to the mix for the X99.
Saved profiles can be loaded manually or via Turbo App, which invokes them automatically based on application-specific preferences. Individual apps can be tied to a combination of performance, fan, audio, and networking profiles. The audio and networking settings are fairly simplistic compared to the other profiles, but they make Turbo App more of a full-fledged system tuner than a selective overclocker.
On the next page, we'll explore the X99 Deluxe's overclocking chops and performance characteristics.