ASUS’ golden Z87 mainstream lineup suggests that the company means to set the standard for motherboards, and we aim to find out how close it gets to doing so with a look at its Z87-EXPERT. It features a robust configuration – even including Thunderbolt – and of course, has seen a number of EFI and AiSuite III enhancements.
An archive including all of these screenshots can be snatched here (.ZIP, 6.3MB).
It’s always been the case that with a new processor generation, we see improved BIOSes come out from the likes of ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI and so forth. But when EFI hit the scene, things really got interesting. No longer were these vendors simply adding options to the low-level environment, but now they had to worry about aesthetics and ease-of-use, too.
Out of the gate, it’s hard to deny that ASUS had the best EFI solution going – nothing could touch it. Compared to solutions from other vendors, it was easier-to-use, behaved smarter, and looked good. It felt like all of the other companies got a different memo than ASUS – theirs apparently said that the intent of the EFI was to just look cool.
With the Z87 generation in particular, a lot of vendors have begun to catch up to ASUS in this regard, especially GIGABYTE (I’ll be covering one of its boards shortly). ASUS wasn’t ignorant of the fact that its EFI implementations were well-liked, so it’s no surprise that the company decided to keep it simple with Z87 and simply enhance, rather than rewrite.
For this review, we’re not going to exhaust everything ASUS’ EFI offers, as we’d rather focus on what’s new. If you’re interested in delving into the EFI as a whole, almost the entirety of what we covered in our P9X79 PRO review can be applied to ASUS’ current fleet of boards as well. If anything, certain functions have likely only been improved.
Before diving into what’s new, though, I’d like to take a moment to tackle ease-of-use, which is an area where ASUS has excelled with its EFI. Simply put, the entire EFI interface can be navigated using only a keyboard, which is hugely appreciated. GIGABYTE’s last-gen EFIs encouraged mouse-use, but the feeling of a mouse inside of an EFI is much different to how it feels inside of your native OS, so really, the keyboard should remain the ultimate focus. Just because you can use the mouse doesn’t mean you should base an EFI design around it.
Other little perks exist with ASUS’ EFIs that I enjoy as well, such as shortcuts that allow you to reach a common part of the EFI quickly; and then there’s a start screen of sorts that very well may not force you to go into the advanced portion of the EFI at all. On Z87, EZ Mode has been improved, and if you’re familiar with ASUS’ previous offerings, you may notice the differences right away:
(Note: These screenshots were captured using the pre-launch EFI version, but all testing was done with the most recent EFI on ASUS’ website.)
The most noticeable change here has to be the addition of DRAM information, which quickly shows you the frequency, timings and voltage of each stick of installed RAM, and allows you to apply an XMP profile if that happens to be your goal. This saves you the time of having to go into the advanced mode to seek out the tweaking section to deal with the same thing.
Also new is the ability to select a fan profile for your CPU fan(s) and the back chassis fan. You’ll note red text for one of my fans in the above shot – this is because the fans are capable of running at very low RPM, lower than the pre-defined minimum ASUS specified in the EFI (this is not a problem; you just need to lower the monitored RPM value inside the EFI).
Finally, the “SATA Information” option at the bottom gives you a quick overview of which storage devices you have installed, and in which port each is plugged into. This is a great shortcut for those who run into storage detection issues (eg: it’s easy to see if the PC is actually detecting it, or if the OS is just being douchey).
Moving on, the “Main” screen, which hasn’t changed for Z87, but does look cleaner.
The “My Favorites” screen is brand-new to Z87 though, and it’s certainly one of the more convenient features offered. Regardless of an option the EFI offers, if it happens to be one you use often, you can select it and then hit F4 to add it to this screen. That way, as soon as you boot up and go into the advanced mode, you’ll be able to get back to it right away. My screenshot simply shows fan speeds and temperatures, but a more realistic options would be overclocking-related.
“Quick Note” is a pop-up feature that’s been added to aide those who want to – you guessed it – keep quick notes on things. If a certain overclock didn’t go too well for you, for example, you could make a note of it here so that you know not to try that configuration again. Unfortunately, both the Quick Note and My Favorites features reset themselves after an EFI upgrade. While ASUS could technically negate that issue, there’s a fine line when it comes to deciding how to optimally using the available EFI space that’s available.
One of the cooler features added to ASUS’ Z87 lineup is the change log. Regardless of what option you change while in the EFI, as soon as you save and exit, you’ll be greeted with a screen like the one seen below. In this particular example, what I did was enable my XMP profile (this in effect allows me to see what that changed exactly), and I also enabled hotplugging for each SATA port. There’s a bit of an obvious text bleedthrough here, but I believe that to be due to the pre-launch EFI, as I haven’t had it occur with recent EFI releases.
Earlier, I mentioned that while in the EZ Mode screen, you’d be able to quickly get SATA information with the shortcut at the bottom. Well, you can see much of the same now inside the “Advanced” setting of the EFI. The example below is a horrible one since I didn’t have storage plugged into any of the drives listed, but trust me, the names will be there when something is plugged in (eg: OCZ-VECTOR (240.0GB)).
It’s also worth noting that the OC Tuner has been updated for this release, primarily allowing you to tell it to focus on adjusting the BCLK first, or the ratio.
Overall, the EFI here is what we’ve come to expect from ASUS, which is a very good thing. While the company is beginning to get some real competition now, I feel its EFI implementation looks better than the rest, and it’s little features like those mentioned on this page that makes the overall experience even better.
We’ve covered hardware and EFI… what’s next? Oh, right: software.