So now that we have covered the design and features of the Asus Z87-Expert it is time to dive into how well the board performs. Asus has always been a company that talks up the performance that their products are capable of and, from our initial look, we can understand this. Asus is one of the companies that drives the market in terms of how to build a motherboard and the components used to squeeze as much performance as possible out of them. So with that in mind let’s just how well the Z87-Expert does perform when on the bench.
With the launch of Intel’s Haswell there was the normal shift to a new chipset. This is Intel’s Z87 chipset and everyone rushed to get their version of this new chipset out onto the market. Many of the boards that reached consumers were just rehashes of boards that were already on the market with the Z77 chipset, but with the bonus of improved performance under Haswell. So with that in mind we have Asus’ Z87-Expert up on the test bench to see just how it stacks up to the older Z77 boards running Ivy Bridge. Let’s dive in.
Gigabyte is not a company to be left out of any market and they are certainly keeping pace in the motherboard arena. They are one of the companies that not only leads sales, but also helps to drive innovation and performance standards. We have had many Gigabyte motherboards in the lab and almost without exception they have been great performers. Gigabyte has also been able to learn from their mistakes and from feedback, whether it is from consumers or the press. So where does this leave Gigabyte in the Z87 market? Well we happen to have a Z87X-UD3H in the lab, so let’s take a look and see.
The small form factor crowd has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Every day on Facebook or some other spot on the internet you will see some pretty impressive builds with tiny motherboards stuffed in them. However, one of the things that has always seemed to be missing I full chipset support. Most of the time you can find mini-ITX boards running business or consumer chipsets. Fortunately, this trend has been changing and we are seeing more powerful boards hitting the market. We have one of these newer boards in the lab in the form of the Asus Z97I Plus. This Z97 chipset based board is intended to put all the power and features of larger boards into a tiny package. Let’s see how well Asus does at reaching this goal.
As Intel moves more and more core components to their CPU we are seeing an interesting shift in motherboard design. The manufacturers are all realizing that the performance difference between them are narrowing. The days of seeing a massive difference in benchmark scores are almost gone. However, instead of just pushing out a bunch of cookie cutter boards some motherboard makers are looking for new ways to differentiate their boards. Asus is one of these makers and we will be taking a look at a board that has more than a few departures from the normal motherboard design philosophy. This is the Asus Z97-A. So without too much more delay, let’s dive in and see what Asus has given us.
Today Anandtech had an announcement from Intel about a reduction to their desktop motherboard business with a ramp down planned over the next three years. This means that Intel will begin to bow out of this market slowly with an expected exit sometime around 2016. Intel will continue to work with third party manufacturers in the design and build of their boards including the development of reference boards for new form factors (like the one used for the Next Unit of Computing). The question is; what will this mean to both Intel and the rest of the desktop market? In truth it means very little to the majority of the market, but it is significant in many ways.
Manufacturers of hardware components are not expecting a significant recovery of the PC market over the next year. Asus and Gigabyte, both leading manufacturer of motherboards, have said that in 2013 they expect an equal or slightly lower number of deliveries of motherboards than was the case this year.
They say that competition is good for the soul, and they are right. In just about any area you can think of having a little competition makes you better at what you do. In the computer world this is especially noticeable when it comes to motherboards, even more so now that companies like Intel and AMD control the chipsets and their features. The push now comes down to performance tuning (at a very fine level) overclocking an additional features to entice the consumer into picking up a new motherboard. We have had a couple of Z97 based boards in the lab recently, but all have been from the same company. Now we have one in from Gigabyte in the form of the Z97MX Gaming 5. Let’s take a look and see if competition has driven Gigabyte to a higher standard.
We all know that Intel is launching a new CPU in the next few months to replace the 1366 socket and the X58 chipset. There is not a whole lot of detail around on this, but we can gauge the time of launch by the number of companies that are currently “launching” X79 motherboards. If history is any indication we are within about 3 months of seeing a new CPU from the Blue Team.
Still things are a little different this time; when we saw the P55 and P67 launches the boards were flowing to the review sites and we had previews, unboxings, and everything in-between. We even had a stack of P67 motherboards about a month before the CPU arrived on our doorstep. This time companies are being a little more… careful in how they send products out. I was not the only one to get buried under an avalanche of boxes right up to the actual launch date.
Now instead of flooding the sites with pre-production boards we are seeing the manufacturers themselves conducting the photo shoots and writing up the details. These are what the press has to talk about (unless you are lucky enough to get invited to a launch event at a company headquarters). Still that is what we have to go on so that is what we will talk about now. So far we have heard from two of the larger competitors. Asus has pushed out their Rampage IV Extreme and shown it off to a select group of journalists. These lucky few got to see a board that while containing a complete BOM (Build of Materials) was not likely to work. Some have even been able to actual take a closer look at the board in person but those have been few and far between.
Next up we have a whole line of boards from Gigabyte. Not content to just launch one Gigabyte is showing off a total of four. These boards range from their top end gaming board the G1 Assassin 2 to their more mainstream X79-UD3 (stopping along the way to pick up the crazy overclocker on the X79-UD7).
We really are looking forward to each and every one of these products. They are bringing a new socket, a new memory specification (not really but sort of) and much more. As we find out more about the X79 and Intel’s next generation CPU we will be sure you let you know. One thing we can tell you now, it is certainly not going to be boring.
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With PCIe 3.0 just coming on to the scene the PCI special interest group (PCI-SIG) just announced that they are planning on releasing PCIe 4.0 sometime around 2014-2015. Now that is assuming we all survive the Mayan apocalypse, but if we all do then it looks like the interconnects between the devices on our systems will get quite a bit faster. According to the press release, the new specification can move 16 “Gigatransfers” (is that even a word?) per second.