Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7965/asus-z97-deluxe-nfc-wlc-review-thunderbolt-2



Investing in the top range motherboard should afford a few privileges. It should come with extra features, extra components in the box, and where possible the manufacturer should put time and effort into better performance. The ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC) tips the scales at $400, but comes with Thunderbolt 2, an NFC connection system, a Wireless Charging system, dual SATA Express, dual Ethernet ports, 2T2R 802.11ac WiFi, M.2. support and a total of 10 SATA/USB 3.0 ports.

ASUS Z97-DELUXE Overview

After I tested the Z97-Deluxe, I almost considered titling the review ‘Everything But The Kitchen Sink’, in light of the depth ASUS has gone to ensure that a normal ATX motherboard has as much functionality as possible. The Deluxe is going to be as near as an everything motherboard as you might get, with dual NIC + 802.11ac 2T2R WiFi, two Thunderbolt 2 ports via an add-in card, NFC, Wireless Charging, two SATA Express ports, M.2 support and 10 SATA/USB – and at $400 it should be critically analyzed. $400 might seem like an upper price limit for a Z97 motherboard, as anything more sounds a bit much.  This is perhaps why we do not have a PLX chip for 4-way PCIe, a feature ASUS has left to its Z97-WS, which we will review in due course. This might mark a change in ASUS’ design, leaving 4-way PCIe devices to the workstation series, the LGA 2011 (Ivy Bridge-E) series and the gaming motherboards (Maximus Extreme). The Z97-Deluxe supports two-way SLI and three-way CrossFire, which should accommodate most LGA 1150 users not wanting a workstation motherboard.

Normally a lot of flak is aimed towards high pricing motherboards, especially in this enthusiastic segment when the motherboards cost more than the CPUs (i7-4770K currently $340, i5-4670K is $240). For such a price the motherboard has to offer something special and different than the rest of the range, and perhaps a few unique features that are not on any other product. The Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC) does this in its bundling: the included NFC and Wireless Charging utilities and the dual-port Thunderbolt 2 card add a large part of that value. The Z97-Deluxe without these additions is only $290, putting an exact $110 value on these add-ons. This in turn means that the users of the Z97 Deluxe (NFC & WLC) are keen to use these tools, and most likely on a regular basis. These tools can be used in other motherboards, and might be sold separately, but as they are in this bundle then they should probably be used with this motherboard. But that makes it a little different when the motherboard contains features that are disabled if the Thunderbolt card is used.

One of the confusing aspects of Z97 is how the chipset is arranged. With the introduction of SATA Express and M.2 on the motherboard, both requiring PCIe lanes and SATA ports, it almost becomes a case of picking and choosing. If a user wants the functionality of one feature, it might disable another. This is also true for the Z97-Deluxe:

So for example, if a user wants to use the dual Thunderbolt 2 card, it is suggested that the BIOS be adjusted such that the final PCIe slot uses x4 lanes from the chipset. This in turn disables the ASMedia SATA Express controller (one SATAe port) and the ASMedia USB 3.0 controller. If the final PCIe slot is set at x2, then only the SATA Express controller is disabled. In order to use the ASMedia SATAe port, the last PCIe slot must be disabled completely. On top of this, the M.2 slot and the other SATA Express slot share PCIe lanes. If we use one, the other is disabled.

This means the user has a choice: if you use two SATAe drives, or SATA drives in the SATAe ports, then this disables M.2, two rear USB 3.0 ports and the final PCIe slot. Z97 feels more like a game of musical chairs which on the one hand is exacerbated by the storage options but calms down a bit when we realize that the hardware to exploit them is still a couple of months away from release.

If we move all these extras aside and just consider the motherboard on its own, we get newer features like the EZ XMP switch (helps enable XMP without using the BIOS) alongside the storage, as well as Crystal Sound 2 which is the updated layout of the Realtek ALC1150 codec (meaning isolated PCB, EMI shield, filters and headphone amplifiers with DTS support). Perennial features now part of the ASUS fold such as USB BIOS Flashback, EPU, TPU, 4-pin fan headers that support DC+PWM modes, Wi-Fi Go! and DirectKey are all here, although DirectKey (the ability to restart into the BIOS) moves from a button to header.

The ASUS BIOS and software are also updated for Z97. Both take advantage of features I have been pushing for a while, such as fan profiling with accurate graphs and visual presets in the BIOS. While I think a part of the aesthetic element of the BIOS has taken a step back from Z87, the new functionality in the automatic overclocking allows users to choose a combination of cooling and workload for the BIOS to push the CPU. The software is updated to 5-Way Optimization, adding in an overclock-per-software feature called Turbo App. The automatic overclocking in the OS also allows adjusting of the stress element of the test, a much needed feature.

Benchmarks point the Z97-Deluxe as leading the way for integrated audio, with some of the best dynamic range and THD+N numbers we have ever seen after a driver update fixed a minor issue (similar to the one on our previous Z97 review) relating to heavy distortion at 100% speaker volume. Power consumption at idle seems high, but at load is low. The USB Turbo mode gives us some of the best USB 2.0 numbers we have seen, and manual overclocking got our CPU to 4.6 GHz quite easily. Other CPU and GPU benchmarks put the Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC) in the same regions as any of the other motherboards, putting the price increase firmly in terms of upgraded components, more functionality and the added NFC/WLC/Thunderbolt 2 extras. Users who buy the Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC) will have to specifically need those extras in order to justify the cost.

Visual Inspection

For the previous series of motherboards, ASUS adopted an off-color gold for its motherboards – a sort of yellow/mustard hybrid for Z87. For Z97 it has changed again, this time towards a more metallic dulled gold with a brushed look, similar to the brushed aluminum perspective of more design conscious fashion brands. The heatsinks are the main recipients of this style change, with the power delivery heatsink on the board sporting an ‘ASUSDESIGN’ motif.

The rear panel does not have this new color scheme, which is unfortunate. I think having the rear silver parts the same metallic design might homogenize the look. Nevertheless, the socket area is up against Intel specifications on all sides. The heatsinks on three sides are sufficiently low for most big air heatsinks, however should a user decide to place a large heatsink blowing left-right as well as using tall DRAM (such as G.Skill TridentX) there might be an altercation. The heatsink to the left and below the socket are joined by a heatpipe. Typically a heatsink below an 8-series motherboard was indicative of a PLX chip, however ASUS is using this merely to extend surface area for heat dissipation.

The socket area has access to five of the six fan headers on the motherboard. To the bottom left near the rear panel are two 4-pin chassis headers, and to the top in between the heatsink and the DRAM slots are a CPU fan header and a CPU_OPT header for liquid cooler setups. The fifth header within reach of the socket is above the 24-pin ATX power connector, and the final header on board is at the bottom next to the USB 2.0 headers. All the fan headers on board are 4-pin and capable of DC or PWM fan functionality.

The DRAM slots use single-sided latch mechanisms to make it easier to remove modules when large PCIe devices are installed. This also means that users should take care to ensure that the DRAM modules are pushed in sufficiently. At the top right of the motherboard is the MemOK button, allowing users to reboot into the system without losing CPU frequencies and just resetting the DRAM to stock speeds. Below this is a new feature on ASUS motherboards – the ‘EZ XMP’ switch. For users who do not want to enter the BIOS but still want full speed from the memory, this switch should be enabled to enable the Extreme Memory Profile of the memory used.

Below the 24-pin ATX power connector are two USB 3.0 headers, both powered by an ASMedia ASM1074 USB 3.0 hub from one of the chipset USB 3.0 ports. Below this is the complex SATA port arrangement, starting with two SATA 6 Gbps from an ASMedia controller. Next are four SATA 6 Gbps ports from the chipset, and then two SATA Express connectors that contain four more SATA 6 Gbps ports. As explained by the diagram in the middle of the board, the bottom SATAe port is powered by the chipset (two SATA 6 Gbps ports and x2 lanes) and the top SATAe is via the ASMedia ASM1065E controller. This controller takes two lanes from the chipset and can allocate them to the SATA ports or the SATAe as required. Note that this SATAe slot shares bandwidth with the PCIe 2.0 x4 slot on board as well as the two rear USB 3.0 ports from an ASMedia controller. Next to the SATAe is an M.2 slot which also requires x2 lanes and two SATA ports, which it shares with the first SATA Express meaning only one can be occupied at the same time. Confused yet?

The bottom of the motherboard gives an array of headers and switches. Underneath the M.2 is an extended TPU switch, one click gives an automatic overclock based on CPU multipliers and the other boosts the CPU multiplier and BCLK. Next to the TPU is the EPU, which when enabled helps to keep the power consumption of the system down. One of the changes with Z97 over Z87 is with the small header below, labeled DRCT for DirectKey. This is a header that when shorted will boot the system into the BIOS – something that a reviewer or overclocker might have frequent use of. I would prefer it as a button rather than a header, just because it means I have to find something to short the pins. To the left of the DRCT header is a T_SENSOR1 header, allowing users to add in their own thermocouple for temperature monitoring and fan control. To the left of this are two headers for the SATA Express ports, in order to pass a base clock through to the device should the drive require it. There is one for each of the SATA Express ports as required.

To the left of the TPU switch is another header for increasing the voltage limits to the system. For extreme overclockers using liquid nitrogen, normal voltage limits are not enough to squeeze every bit of performance out of the motherboard, and to stop regular users burning CPUs with 1.9 volts, ASUS has relegated this option to those users who can also adjust an onboard header.

At the bottom edge of the motherboard is the normal range of headers – the front panel header, a fan header, two USB 2.0 headers, a TPM header, power/reset buttons, a two-digit debug display for POST codes, a CLR_CMOS button for resetting the BIOS, a BIOS Flashback button, the Thunderbolt header and the front audio header.

The left hand side of the motherboard contains the audio subsystem which ASUS has upgraded since Z87. Crystal Sound 2 houses a Realtek ALC1150 codec with an EMI shield, as well as separating the PCB between analog and digital signals. The filters and amplifiers help adjust the signal, including a de-pop circuit, to give some of our best audio results for onboard audio. The audio also has DTS II support.

Next to the audio is the PCIe layout, offering an x1, x16 (x8), x1, x1, x8, x1 and x4 slots. The final x4 slot can be adjusted as x4, x2 or disabled as it shares bandwidth with the second SATAe port and the USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel. In order to use the bundled Thunderbolt 2 card in the package, this slot has to be in x4 mode.

The rear panel uses all three digital outputs possible from an LGA1150 CPU, configured as a HDMI, a DisplayPort and a mini-DisplayPort. The 802.11ac 2T2R Broadcom module is also on the rear panel in the form of Wi-Fi Go, next to a set of four USB 2.0 ports. The back panel uses two USB 3.0 ports from an ASMedia controller (shares bandwidth with the final PCIe slot on the motherboard) and four USB 3.0 ports from the chipset. The two Ethernet ports are both from Intel, one I218V and the other I211-AT. Finally the audio jacks from the ALC1150 are also here.

Board Features

ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC + WFC)
Price US Link
Size ATX
CPU Interface LGA-1150
Chipset Intel Z97
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1333-3300 MHz
Video Outputs HDMI (4096x2160 at 24 Hz or 2560x1600 at 60 Hz)
DisplayPort (4096x2160 at 25 Hz or 3840x2160 at 60 Hz)
Mini-DisplayPort (4096x2160 at 24 Hz or 3840x2160 at 60 Hz)
Onboard LAN Intel I218V
Intel I211-AT
Broadcom 802.11ac 2T2R
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC1150 with Crystal Sound 2
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16 or x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4*
4 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Onboard SATA/RAID 6 x SATA 6 Gbps Ports (PCH)*
1 x SATA Express (PCH)*
1 x M.2 PCIe and SATA (PCH)*
1 x SATA Express (ASMedia) with 2x SATA 6 Gbps
2 x SATA 6 Gbps (ASMedia)
*The PCIe x16_3, USB3_E56 and SATAExpress_E1
connectors share the same bandwidth.
*M.2 Socket 3 shares bandwidth with SATAExpress_1
*Use ThunderboltEX II/DUAL card in PCIeX16_3 slot,
configure the bandwidth to x4 mode in BIOS
USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0 (PCH) [4 rear panel]
6 x USB 3.0 (ASMedia) [2 rear panel, 2 headers]
Onboard 10 x SATA 6 Gbps ports
1 x M.2
2 x SATA Express
2 x USB 3.0 Headers
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
1 x TPM Header
6 x Fan Headers
1 x EZ XMP Switch
1 x Thunderbolt Header
TPU Switch
EPU Switch
Power Button
Reset Button
Clear CMOS Button
MemOK! Button
USB BIOS Flashback Button
DirectKey Header
Front Audio Header
Front Panel Header
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 8-pin CPU
Fan Headers 1 x CPU (4-pin)
1 x CPU_OPT (4-pin)
4 x CHA (4-pin)
IO Panel 4 x USB 2.0
6 x USB 3.0
HDMI
DisplayPort
Mini-DisplayPort
Wi-Fi GO! Module (802.11ac 2T2R, BT v4)
2 x Ethernet (Intel I218V/I211-AT)
Audio Jacks (Realtek ALC1150)
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

Personal preference would put the DirectKey back as a button, but I doubt that many users would care much about it. The complexity of using this storage vs. disabling another feature is a little complex, perhaps too much so. Because storage is still driven (perhaps erroneously) by peak read/write speeds, it cannot be hidden behind a PLX chip (such as the 8608) where the uplink is of fewer lanes. One way to get around this issue might be the PLX8747 chip on the CPU, splitting the 16 CPU lanes into 32 (refer back to our big PLX8747 Z77 review to refresh on how the PLX works here).

With 32 lanes, we can split into four groups of 8. Two groups of 8 can do GPU duties, combining for a single GPU and using a switch to split into two lots of x8 when dual GPUs are required. The other two sets of 8 can be used to supply SATA Express slots, M.2 slots and other controllers. Because there are limits to how many endpoints can be generated via the PLX chip, other ICs (such as the PLX8717, which takes in x8 and can put out x4/x4, or take in x4 and output x4/x2/x2) might be required, which will drive up cost but allow all the ports to be used together. So crazy ideas such as a motherboard with SLI capabilities, four M.2 x2 slots and two PCIe 2.0 x4 slots could be possible. Or given the propensity for one manufacturer to play with LSI chips for more SATA ports, that is another option.



ASUS Z97-DELUXE BIOS

Since I started writing for AnandTech, back with an initial X58 review and from P67 onwards, the graphical BIOS paradigm has been shifting. Motherboard manufacturers are becoming more efficient in packaging their BIOS into a small 64 Mbit or 128 Mbit package, including enough drivers and extra features (sounds, images) to make the graphical experience for the user better. This should include efficiency tweaks, so we are scrolling at something above 30 Hz, but also some manufacturers have been playing around with higher resolutions, as well as fonts that are easier on the eye than Courier. ASUS falls into this crowd, and its new BIOS expands the fan controls into an easier user experience. However I feel there has been a slight regression in the tabbing interface.

The BIOS receives the same brushed look as the motherboard heatsinks, and while it cannot be metallic, there is a distinct contrast between the color of the background and the text such that users can identify what is written as well as what is selected.

The first screen is the ‘EZ Mode’ which gives info on the system: the motherboard, the BIOS, the CPU used, the PCU speed, the memory DIMMs installed, the capacity of the memory, the speed of the memory, the CPU temperature, the CPU voltage, the motherboard temperature, the fan speeds and the CPU fan gradient graph. Users can enable XMP from this menu, as well as select the boot priority and quick tuning profiles for the system. A cool new addition is the fan profiling, direct from the easy mode. The fan speeds on the left show a fan spinning, and the faster a fan spins, the faster the animation. But click on the button marked ‘Manual Fan Tuning’ and after a quick test of the system fans, the following menu appears:

Users can select each of the five controllable fan headers (the sixth is for liquid coolers that want 100% pump operation) in either PWM or DC mode. Each fan can be referenced to one of the four preset options (standard, silent, turbo, full speed) or users can go manually and adjust a three point gradient. Ideally I would prefer more points in the gradient and a hysteresis option here in the BIOS as well, but we will look forward to any future adjustments.

Also part of the Easy Mode is the Tuning Wizard. This is a button up the top, above the CPU Temperature. Selecting it gives the following screen:

On previous ASUS motherboards I had lamented the lack of variable overclock options. It was often just ‘Tuner’, or a choice between ‘Fast’ and ‘Extreme’. ASUS took this onboard from several sources and developed this interface, allowing users to select what they do with their PC:

What sort of cooling is being used:

And then the BIOS gives an estimate of possible overclocks when the Tuning Wizard is implemented:

So in this case, the BIOS is predicting (based on internal testing and a lookup table) a 28% increase in CPU speed (3.5 GHz to 4.5 GHz) and a 84% boost in DRAM speed (1333 MHz to 2450 MHz) when we had an i7-4770K equipped with 32GB of Corsair DDR3-2400 C10. At present the BIOS is not that smart, so if the overclock fails the user will have to get into BIOS and set defaults if their CPU cannot take the speed and voltage. Because Haswell is so varied in its performance (e.g. I have a CPU that fails 4.3 GHz at 1.35 volts), ASUS has to draw the line between aggressiveness on auto overclocking against the likelihood that some CPUs are bad overclockers. If an overclock fails, try retaking the tuning and selecting the lower cooling option; this will cause the temperature limits in the OC to adjust to hopefully accept an overclock on a poor processor.

Astute readers will notice that Easy Tuning also has a RAID function. Part of the feedback ASUS has received from the 8-series is the ability to build RAID drives using hardware drivers. This tool is designed to take control of the Intel RAID interface, and users can build arrays through the BIOS instead. I want to take this feature for a spin, but I will leave that for another ASUS review.

Moving into Advanced mode also affords an adjustment from Z87. ASUS is being more economical with the space, and the use of a different font makes it more readable with no need to put significant gaps between each row of text. As a result, we get a Hardware Monitor on the right hand side with all the poignant information about the CPU, DRAM and Voltage. I would have liked the motherboard name and BIOS version in there as well, just to complete the set. At the bottom is the help menu. Moving it to a longer horizontal side allows more text on the same line and less strain on users who read about controls to keep adjusting their eye line. That might sound like hooey, but I see it as a good way to use space.

ASUS has definitely regressed in a couple aspects in the design however. It is quite hard to explain in text without a video, but it all comes down to the spacing of the tabs and buttons at the top.

When we use a tabbed web browser with multiple tabs, each tab gets its own section in the tabs area. Each of these tabs is a fixed width, no matter how long the text is. The same with icons, these are a fixed size no matter what the icon contains. When we click on a tab, a whole new window appears with new information, or in the case of Chrome, it is a new OS process. With bookmarks however, these are of variable length up to a maximum. In the Chrome bookmark bar, both folders and individual links are variable in length, because you are in the same process or creating a dropdown.

With that in mind, look at the ASUS BIOS. The list at the top, starting with the date, time, ‘English’, ‘MyFavorite(F3)’, ‘Qfan Control(F6)’ are all of variable length. The list of tabs underneath this, ‘My Favorites’, ‘Main’, ‘AI Tweaker’ are also of variable length. The downside of having it done this way means that if a user wants to click on an option, there is no chance of ‘guessing’ where the right option is due to the variable length nature.

Perhaps I am being a little sensitive here. I can imagine that it might not affect a significant number of people. However in the back of my mind, it might improve the user experience. Other manufacturers have used icons with embedded text to represent these menus, such as a spanner for ‘Tools’ or a temperature meter for ‘Monitor’, which with the right icons/images might be a preferred option if there is space. Because we are dealing with higher resolutions and better image fidelity in the graphical BIOSes, I cannot imagine that static images would affect the redraw rate much, especially compared to the new side-swipe animation ASUS has enabled between selecting these tabs.

With the side-swipe, like on a mobile device the text follows the swipe, and in the ASUS BIOS the side-swipe has to complete before the text is selectable the page. Unfortunately the side-swipe is not as smooth as a mobile device because of limitations, and it takes a good 10-15 frames to complete, or 0.3-0.5 seconds. This might frustrate some users who want to access certain features quickly. The system does allow double tabs to skip tabs, but the side swipe still has to finish before options can be selected, giving a small amount of lag.  Thankfully there is an option to disable this, under Tools called 'Setup Animator'.

The purist/pedant that I am aside, there are still some new and updated features in the BIOS that work well. The My Favorites menu has adjusted so users access a setup map (like a sitemap) in order to select the options for My Favorites:

With the color scheme and font, this is actually really easy to use. Previously users had to navigate to each option and press F4/right click to add to my Favorites, but this condenses that selection into a single menu speeding up the process. The options that I usually use for overclocking my home systems are selected in the screenshot above, which when we navigate to My Favorites gives:

It should be noted that in order for an option to be selectable on the Setup Tree Map, it has to be visible in the BIOS.  This means that if you want to change the CPU fixed voltage, the option has to be set to 'Manual Voltage' before the option appears to set it in the Tree Map.  This is a little annoying, particularly if you are in the My Favorites menu already and decide to add options - as the menu does not refresh, you have to access another tab and navigate back.  At this point it might be worth ASUS' in house overclockers to offer their own My Favorite presets for enthusiasts to use.

For the settings that involve voltages or specific values (such as CAS Latency), the BIOS gives in indication of the current value, whereas the help section at the bottom will display the range and granularity of the setting.

The full overclocking options are in AI Tweaker, and these follow the previous BIOS iteration starting with frequency settings, with sub-menus for DRAM timing and DIGI Power, and then voltage settings. As mentioned the Board Overview, for extreme users wanting to use sub-zero cooling, the OV_CPU jumper on the motherboard has to be enabled to allow extreme voltages:

Load line calibration and switching frequency options are in the DIGI+ Power Control sub-menu, whereas power limits are in CPU Power Management.

Because of the use of switches to enable/disable certain features when others are in use, it pays to understand certain options in the Advanced tab. The usual options are all here, such as HyperThreading in the CPU Configuration menu:

RST/SRT in the PCH Configuration menus:

Display choices in the System Agent Configuration menu:

Out of the two most important menus in Advanced, the PCH Storage allows users to force select between the chipset SATA Express port and the M.2 slot:

Whereas the Onboard Devices menu will allow users to force select between x4 on the final PCIe slot for dual Thunderbolt 2 card, x2 on the final slot for two of the USB 3.0 ports on the back, or Disabled to use the second SATA Express port.

The Monitor tab contains the onboard sensors, as well as the option for Q-Fan Tuning. This tuning needs to take place before using the custom graph adjustments in the Easy Menu, but the easy menu will direct users here automatically. In this menu however users can tie each of the fan headers to a specific sensor on the motherboard, including the T_SENSOR if a user wants to use their own thermocouple.

The Boot tab contains the fast boot options, the boot order and also the boot override features:

To update the BIOS, ASUS still has the EZ Flash 2 tool in the Tools tab:

The Tools tab also contains options for saving overclocking profiles and viewing DRAM SPD information. Because of the ability for ASUS to adjust font sizes in this new BIOS revision, even though the SPD info page has to use the Courier font due to the amount of information, we can get it all on one screen:

Carrying over from the last generation of BIOSes is also Quick Note and Last Modified. Quick Note is essentially a small note pad to write notes about the BIOS, and Last Modified indicates which settings in the BIOS have changed since the system booted:



ASUS Z97-DELUXE Software

The AI Suite package from ASUS is still progressing as the main interface for all of the software features on ASUS motherboards. The interface for the Z97 version is mostly similar to the Z87 package, however the move from Dual Intelligent Processors v4 to v5 adds another element into the equation. One of the big updates to the package is the Turbo App feature that allows users to define specific overclock settings on a program-by-program basis. This means that if a user is playing a game, the overclock can be boosted from normal OS usage, or if in the case of some single-threaded picture editing work, the speed of single core processing can be boosted while the system is in action.

The front screen for the software features each of the main system options, including the overclock settings (TPU), the fan settings (Fan Xpert 3), VRM control (DIGI+ Power), Energy Saving (EPU) and the new Turbo App. The automatic overclocking is here as well and this time we have moved from 4-Way Optimization in Z87 to 5-Way Optimization (5WO) on Z97. The big update to 5WO is the ability to adjust how the system performs the auto overclocking:

A user can now select the ratio that the tool starts from, set the peak temperature to hit during testing, peak power consumption of the CPU and how long the stress test at each point is. This is a big step forward in automatic overclock controls, and allows users to implement, for example, an overclock that reaches a peak temperature of 85ºC and is stress tested for an hour at each point of the scaling. The stress test comprises of a few internal tests from ASUS, including a Prime95 derivative.

The final report gives the overclocking results, and in the screenshot above we see a rise to 4.6 GHz with 1.252 volts with a maximum power draw of 107.6 W.

As part of the automatic overclock it also tests the fans to find their controllable range and adjusts the fan profiles accordingly.

When changing the manual settings, each of the five ways in 5WO can be adjusted. TPU has the CPU options:

The good thing about overclocking in the OS like this is the CPU voltage graphs showing the correlation between the CPU ratio and the voltage applied. As a user adjusts the voltage sliders, the graph changes accordingly giving direct feedback.

The fan options also show their respective graphs, with users being able to choose from presets or initiate the Fan Tuning option so that the software can report any power dead-zones or the quiet zones:

ASUS also offers fan spin up and spin down time, which tries to slowly ramp up or down the fan speed when the temperature changes suddenly. In the form of spin-down time, this can be considered a form of hysteresis so naturally I would push it to the maximum possible such that when I stop playing a game, my fans would cool the case and hardware quicker than immediately reducing the fan speed when I exit.

For manual overclocking we typically adjust the maximum limit of the phases as well, giving them more headroom. These options are in the DIGI+ Power Menu, as well as Load Line Calibration which helps keep a constant voltage across the processor while under load.

The EPU menus allow for customization of power profiles. One of the features ASUS likes to point out is their Away mode which will help power conscious users reduce their power consumption by configuring the maximum CPU power and adjusting the fans.

The Turbo App feature, as shown above, gives the configuration of an overclock for a per-application basis. As an example, I have set two of the games installed on the system for high overclocks and high network usage, but for the ASUS software the multi-threaded overclock is reduced back down to stock performance.

The rest of AI Suite deals with the non-overclocking oriented features of the motherboard. We have covered some of them before:

  • USB Charger+: Quick charging of a single device via USB 3.0 by disabling data transfer and increasing power delivery.
  • USB 3.0 Boost: Offers an additional speed for Windows 7 USB 3.0 devices by implementing an updated driver on-the-fly.
  • USB BIOS Flashback: A quick setup tool to prepare a USB stick for flashing the BIOS without a CPU, DRAM or GPU connected.
  • EZ Update: Software to allow updates to the system, primarily drivers, software and BIOS.
  • Wi-Fi Engine: Set up the system as an access point for a home network.
  • Wi-Fi Go!: Use the Wi-Fi on the system with the Android/iOS app to give remote desktop access via a smartphone or tablet, along with file transfer, cloud storage and remote keyboard/mouse control.

One of the newer features in the software is Push Notice. This allows a user to configure an alert that will be sent to a paired device if the system meets an alert criterion, such as an abnormal temperature/fan RPM/voltage reading or an unexpected system restart.



ASUS Z97-DELUXE(NFC & WLC) In The Box

The $400 price tag puts the Deluxe in the firing line. Users spending this much want as much as they can get. We have already mentioned that the ‘Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC)’ comes with Thunderbolt 2, a Near Field Communications hub and a Wireless Charging pad, which forms part of the package. These certainly push the cost a big higher, but the rest of the additions are similarly plentiful.

In the Z97-Deluxe box we have:

  • Rear IO Shield
  • Motherboard Guide
  • NFC and Wireless Charger Guide
  • ThunderboltEX II/Dual Manual
  • Driver Disk
  • NFC/WLC Driver Disk
  • 2T2R WiFi Antenna
  • Rigid SLI Cable
  • Six SATA Cables
  • NFC Express 2
  • Wireless Charger (Qi Supported)
  • NFC Tag
  • ThunderboltEX II/Dual PCIe card
  • DP to DP cable
  • USB 3.0 Cable for NFC Express 2
  • Micro-USB to USB for Wireless Charger
  • Mains to USB Adapter
  • 9-pin to 5-pin cable
  • GPIO Cable
  • MiniDP to DP Cable

At this point I struggle to recall any motherboard box with more equipment in terms of actual number. Back with the Rampage IV Black Edition we had more of an engineering feat with the ROG OC Panel, but the Deluxe wins for cables, chargers, add-in cards, more cables, and utilities.

The NFC and Wireless Charging tool are designed to be of a similar shape and although it looks like they lock in together, they do not, which is actually a shame (would make it easier to move about). The WLC is Qi compatible, and connects to any USB outlet, hence the inclusion of a mains to USB adapter in the box. The NFC Express 2 pad connects to the PC via USB 3.0, and provides two extra USB 3.0 ports from a hub.

When the NFC device is first plugged into the PC, it requires a couple of drivers provided on the disk, especially for the hub.

The Thunderbolt 2 card comes with a GPIO cable and an appropriate adapter to allow it to connect to the motherboard:

Because TB2 allows both video streams via DP and also data over PCIe, ASUS includes several cables for the rear.

According to the manual these have to be used in conjunction with the motherboard IO ports, such that each of the DisplayPorts are connected:

It does not say if it works with a fully discrete GPU, or if it has to be on the integrated graphics. However, according to the manual, there are several different layouts possible via the daisy chaining rule, as long as the DisplayPort monitors are at the end of the chain:

ASUS Z97-DELUXE Overclocking

Overclocking options on non-ROG motherboards have a big boost due to the BIOS options, helping users with automatic overclocks by letting them choose their cooling for a set of pre-arranged values. This is a step up from the ‘Fast’ or ‘Extreme’ options we used to have, but it also complements the 5-Way Optimisation overclocking method in the software.

In terms of the overclocking performance, our average/lackluster CPU sample managed 4.6 GHz on the Z97 Deluxe before succumbing to peak temperature issues. The 5WO automated overclocking was very aggressive, and due to the Adaptive voltage mode used caused OCCT to apply a lot of voltage during our test, causing a peak temperature of 97ºC. Users should update the DIP5 portion of AI Suite to the latest in order to show the overclock – our software version on the disk may have been a bit BETA where overclocks would not be applied but the latest version from the website works fine.

Experience with ASUS Z97-DELUXE

Methodology:

Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with PovRay and OCCT to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.

For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from previous testing, starts off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed, and the process repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (100ºC+). Our test bed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.

Overclock Results:



Many thanks to...

We must thank the following companies for kindly providing hardware for our test bed:

Test Setup

Test Setup
Processor Intel Core i7-4770K ES
4 Cores, 8 Threads, 3.5 GHz (3.9 GHz Turbo)
Motherboard ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC + WLC)
Cooling Corsair H80i
Thermalright TRUE Copper
Power Supply OCZ 1250W Gold ZX Series
Corsair AX1200i Platinum PSU
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ 4x4 GB DDR3-1600 9-11-9 Kit
Memory Settings 1600 9-11-9-27 1T tRFC 240
Video Cards MSI GTX 770 Lightning 2GB (1150/1202 Boost)
ASUS HD7970 3GB (Reference)
Video Drivers Catalyst 13.12
NVIDIA Drivers 335.23
Hard Drive OCZ Vertex 3 256GB
Optical Drive LG GH22NS50
Case Open Test Bed
Operating System Windows 7 64-bit SP1
USB 2/3 Testing OCZ Vertex 3 240GB with SATA->USB Adaptor

Power Consumption

Power consumption was tested on the system as a whole with a wall meter connected to the OCZ 1250W power supply, while in a single MSI GTX 770 Lightning GPU configuration. This power supply is Gold rated, and as I am in the UK on a 230-240 V supply, leads to ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, which is suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading. This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency. These are the real world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.

While this method for power measurement may not be ideal, and you feel these numbers are not representative due to the high wattage power supply being used (we use the same PSU to remain consistent over a series of reviews, and the fact that some boards on our test bed get tested with three or four high powered GPUs), the important point to take away is the relationship between the numbers. These boards are all under the same conditions, and thus the differences between them should be easy to spot.

Power Consumption - Long Idle

Power Consumption - Idle

Power Consumption - OCCT

Power consumption while at idle and long idle seems relatively high, especially compared to the UD5H and another one of the boards we have tested but not published yet. The load power consumption however is lower, suggesting that perhaps there are a few features on the Z97-Deluxe that consume power at idle.

Windows 7 POST Time

Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized. A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized). As part of our testing, we are now going to look at the POST Boot Time - this is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows 7 starts loading. (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows specific features.)  These results are subject to human error, so please allow +/- 1 second in these results.

POST (Power-On Self-Test) Time - Single MSI GTX 770

One of the big features out of the Z97 motherboards we have tested so far is the long POST times when left at default (the UD5H that formed the basis of our first Z97 review was the exception). However when stripped of controllers, the Z97-Deluxe nudges a nine-second POST time.



System Benchmarks

Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5

The premise behind Rightmark:AA is to test the input and output of the audio system to determine noise levels, range, harmonic distortion, stereo crosstalk and so forth. Rightmark:AA should indicate how well the sound system is built and isolated from electrical interference (either internally or externally). For this test we connect the Line Out to the Line In using a short six inch 3.5mm to 3.5mm high-quality jack, turn the OS speaker volume to 100%, and run the Rightmark default test suite at 192 kHz, 24-bit. The OS is tuned to 192 kHz/24-bit input and output, and the Line-In volume is adjusted until we have the best RMAA value in the mini-pretest. We look specifically at the Dynamic Range of the audio codec used on board, as well as the Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise.

Dynamic Range of the Z97-Deluxe

Rightmark: AA, Dynamic Range, 24-bit / 192 kHz

Rightmark: AA, THD+N, 24-bit / 192 kHz

We had one small initial issue with our audio test on the Deluxe, causing distortion at 100% volume when the drivers off the disk were installed. The latest Realtek drivers from the ASUS website worked better, and gave some of the best audio results we have ever seen in our RMAA test.

USB Backup

For this benchmark, we run CrystalDiskMark to determine the ideal sequential read and write speeds for the USB port using our 240 GB OCZ Vertex3 SSD with a SATA 6 Gbps to USB 3.0 converter. Then we transfer a set size of files from the SSD to the USB drive using DiskBench, which monitors the time taken to transfer. The files transferred are a 1.52 GB set of 2867 files across 320 folders – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are the videos used in the WinRAR test. In an update to pre-Z87 testing, we also run MaxCPU to load up one of the threads during the test which improves general performance up to 15% by causing all the internal pathways to run at full speed.

USB 2.0 Copy Times

USB 3.0 Copy Times

USB 2.0 performance with the Turbo mode activated did a good job with around a 10% time saving in the copy test. USB 3.0 gave a smaller increase, and judging by our current USB 3.0 tests on Z97, is a slight regression from Z87.

DPC Latency

Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing. In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority. Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests, such as audio, will be further down the line. So if the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled. If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time, resulting in an empty audio buffer – this leads to characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks. Having a bigger buffer and correctly implemented system drivers obviously helps in this regard. The DPC latency checker measures how much time is processing DPCs from driver invocation – the lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes. Results are measured in microseconds and taken as the peak latency while cycling through a series of short HD videos - less than 500 microseconds usually gets the green light, but the lower the better.

DPC Latency Maximum

If there was one specific feature to fix from the 8-series motherboards, it was DPC Latency. Every Z87 motherboard we tested scored 150 microseconds or up (except for one at ~140). Like the UD5H, the Z97-Deluxe continues a good trend of below 100 microsecond results for Z97.



Real World CPU Benchmarks

Readers of our motherboard review section will have noted the trend in modern motherboards to implement a form of MultiCore Enhancement / Acceleration / Turbo (read our report here) on their motherboards. This does several things – better benchmark results at stock settings (not entirely needed if overclocking is an end-user goal), at the expense of heat and temperature, but also gives in essence an automatic overclock which may be against what the user wants. Our testing methodology is ‘out-of-the-box’, with the latest public BIOS installed and XMP enabled, and thus subject to the whims of this feature. It is ultimately up to the motherboard manufacturer to take this risk – and manufacturers taking risks in the setup is something they do on every product (think C-state settings, USB priority, DPC Latency / monitoring priority, memory subtimings at JEDEC). Processor speed change is part of that risk which is clearly visible, and ultimately if no overclocking is planned, some motherboards will affect how fast that shiny new processor goes and can be an important factor in the purchase.

Rendering – Adobe After Effects CS6: link

Published by Adobe, After Effects is a digital motion graphics, visual effects and compositing software package used in the post-production process of filmmaking and television production. For our benchmark we downloaded a common scene in use on the AE forums for benchmarks and placed it under our own circumstances for a repeatable benchmark. We generate 152 frames of the scene and present the time to do so based purely on CPU calculations.

Adobe After Effects CS6: 152 Frames

Compression – WinRAR 5.0.1: link

Our WinRAR test from 2013 is updated to the latest version of WinRAR at the start of 2014. We compress a set of 2867 files across 320 folders totaling 1.52 GB in size – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are small 30 second 720p videos.

WinRAR 5.01

Image Manipulation – FastStone Image Viewer 4.9: link

Similarly to WinRAR, the FastStone test us updated for 2014 to the latest version. FastStone is the program I use to perform quick or bulk actions on images, such as resizing, adjusting for color and cropping. In our test we take a series of 170 images in various sizes and formats and convert them all into 640x480 .gif files, maintaining the aspect ratio. FastStone does not use multithreading for this test, and thus single threaded performance is often the winner.

FastStone Image Viewer 4.9

Video Conversion – Xilisoft Video Converter 7: link

The XVC test I normally do is updated to the full version of the software, and this time a different test as well. Here we take two different videos: a double UHD (3840x4320) clip of 10 minutes and a 640x266 DVD rip of a 2h20 film and convert both to iPod suitable formats. The reasoning here is simple – when frames are small enough to fit into memory, the algorithm has more chance to apply work between threads and process the video quicker. Results shown are in seconds and time taken to encode.

Xilisoft VC 7.5 Film CPU Only

Xilisoft VC 7.5 2x4K CPU Only

Video Conversion – Handbrake v0.9.9: link

Handbrake is a media conversion tool that was initially designed to help DVD ISOs and Video CDs into more common video formats. The principle today is still the same, primarily as an output for H.264 + AAC/MP3 audio within an MKV container. In our test we use the same videos as in the Xilisoft test, and results are given in frames per second.

HandBrake v0.9.9 Film CPU Only

HandBrake v0.9.9 2x4K CPU Only

Rendering – PovRay 3.7: link

The Persistence of Vision RayTracer, or PovRay, is a freeware package for as the name suggests, ray tracing. It is a pure renderer, rather than modeling software, but the latest beta version contains a handy benchmark for stressing all processing threads on a platform. We have been using this test in motherboard reviews to test memory stability at various CPU speeds to good effect – if it passes the test, the IMC in the CPU is stable for a given CPU speed. As a CPU test, it runs for approximately 2-3 minutes on high end platforms.

PovRay 3.7 beta



Scientific and Synthetic Benchmarks

2D to 3D Rendering Agisoft PhotoScan v1.0: link

Agisoft Photoscan creates 3D models from 2D images, a process which is very computationally expensive. The algorithm is split into four distinct phases, and different phases of the model reconstruction require either fast memory, fast IPC, more cores, or even OpenCL compute devices to hand. Agisoft supplied us with a special version of the software to script the process, where we take 50 images of a stately home and convert it into a medium quality model. This benchmark typically takes around 15-20 minutes on a high end PC on the CPU alone, with GPUs reducing the time.

Agisoft PhotoScan Benchmark - Total Time

Console Emulation Dolphin Benchmark: link

At the start of 2014 I was emailed with a link to a new emulation benchmark based on the Dolphin Emulator. The issue with emulators tends to be two-fold: game licensing and raw CPU power required for the emulation. As a result, many emulators are often bound by single thread CPU performance, and general reports tended to suggest that Haswell provided a significant post to emulator performance. This benchmark runs a Wii program that raytraces a complex 3D scene inside the Dolphin Wii emulator. Performance on this benchmark is a good proxy of the speed of Dolphin CPU emulation, which is an intensive single core task using most aspects of a CPU. Results are given in minutes, where the Wii itself scores 17.53; meaning that anything above this is faster than an actual Wii for processing Wii code, albeit emulated.

Dolphin Benchmark

Point Calculations – 3D Movement Algorithm Test: link

3DPM is a self-penned benchmark, taking basic 3D movement algorithms used in Brownian Motion simulations and testing them for speed. High floating point performance, MHz and IPC wins in the single thread version, whereas the multithread version has to handle the threads and loves more cores.

3D Particle Movement: Single Threaded

3D Particle Movement: MultiThreaded

Encryption TrueCrypt v0.7.1a: link

TrueCrypt is an off the shelf open source encryption tool for files and folders. For our test we run the benchmark mode using a 1GB buffer and take the mean result from AES encryption.

TrueCrypt 7.1a AES

Synthetic – 7-Zip 9.2: link

As an open source compression tool, 7-Zip is a popular tool for making sets of files easier to handle and transfer. The software offers up its own benchmark, to which we report the result.

7-Zip MIPS



Gaming Benchmarks

F1 2013

First up is F1 2013 by Codemasters. I am a big Formula 1 fan in my spare time, and nothing makes me happier than carving up the field in a Caterham, waving to the Red Bulls as I drive by (because I play on easy and take shortcuts). F1 2013 uses the EGO Engine, and like other Codemasters games ends up being very playable on old hardware quite easily. In order to beef up the benchmark a bit, we devised the following scenario for the benchmark mode: one lap of Spa-Francorchamps in the heavy wet, the benchmark follows Jenson Button in the McLaren who starts on the grid in 22nd place, with the field made up of 11 Williams cars, 5 Marussia and 5 Caterham in that order. This puts emphasis on the CPU to handle the AI in the wet, and allows for a good amount of overtaking during the automated benchmark. We test at 1920x1080 on Ultra graphical settings.

F1 2013: 1080p Max, 1x GTX 770

F1 2013, 1080p Max
  NVIDIA AMD
Average Frame Rates

Minimum Frame Rates

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite was Zero Punctuation’s Game of the Year for 2013, uses the Unreal Engine 3, and is designed to scale with both cores and graphical prowess. We test the benchmark using the Adrenaline benchmark tool and the Xtreme (1920x1080, Maximum) performance setting, noting down the average frame rates and the minimum frame rates.

Bioshock Infinite: 1080p Max, 1x GTX 770

Bioshock Infinite, 1080p Max
  NVIDIA AMD
Average Frame Rates

Minimum Frame Rates

Tomb Raider

The next benchmark in our test is Tomb Raider. Tomb Raider is an AMD optimized game, lauded for its use of TressFX creating dynamic hair to increase the immersion in game. Tomb Raider uses a modified version of the Crystal Engine, and enjoys raw horsepower. We test the benchmark using the Adrenaline benchmark tool and the Xtreme (1920x1080, Maximum) performance setting, noting down the average frame rates and the minimum frame rates.

Tomb Raider: 1080p Max, 1x GTX 770

Tomb Raider, 1080p Max
  NVIDIA AMD
Average Frame Rates

Minimum Frame Rates

 



Gaming Benchmarks

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a benchmarking wet dream – a highly complex benchmark that can bring the toughest setup and high resolutions down into single figures. Having an extreme SSAO setting can do that, but at the right settings Sleeping Dogs is highly playable and enjoyable. We run the basic benchmark program laid out in the Adrenaline benchmark tool, and the Xtreme (1920x1080, Maximum) performance setting, noting down the average frame rates and the minimum frame rates.

Sleeping Dogs: 1080p Max, 1x GTX 770

Sleeping Dogs, 1080p Max
  NVIDIA AMD
Average Frame Rates

Minimum Frame Rates

Company of Heroes 2

Company of Heroes 2 also can bring a top end GPU to its knees, even at very basic benchmark settings. To get an average 30 FPS using a normal GPU is a challenge, let alone a minimum frame rate of 30 FPS. For this benchmark I use modified versions of Ryan’s batch files at 1920x1080 on High. COH2 is a little odd in that it does not scale with more GPUs with the drivers we use.

Company Of Heroes 2: 1080p Max, 1x GTX 770

Company of Heroes 2, 1080p Max
  NVIDIA AMD
Average Frame Rates

Minimum Frame Rates

Battlefield 4

The EA/DICE series that has taken countless hours of my life away is back for another iteration, using the Frostbite 3 engine. AMD is also piling its resources into BF4 with the new Mantle API for developers, designed to cut the time required for the CPU to dispatch commands to the graphical sub-system. For our test we use the in-game benchmarking tools and record the frame time for the first ~70 seconds of the Tashgar single player mission, which is an on-rails generation of and rendering of objects and textures. We test at 1920x1080 at Ultra settings.

 

Battlefield 4: 1080p Max, 1x GTX 770

Battlefield 4, 1080p Max
  NVIDIA AMD
Average Frame Rates

99th Percentile Frame Rates



ASUS Z97-DELUXE (NFC & WFC) Conclusion

Because there are two SKUs for the Deluxe, the $290 plain model and the $400 bundle with Thunderbolt 2, NFC and Wireless Charging, this essentially becomes two reviews with two conclusions. One about the motherboard, and whether the system as a whole meets its price point, whereas the second is on the bundle and whether it is a cost effective product overall.

The motherboard, as it comes, has one of the larger feature sets for Z97. Despite the issues with routing bought about by the new storage options on Z97, we have access to 10 SATA 6 Gbps ports, 10 USB 3.0 ports, dual NICs, 802.11ac 2T2R WiFi with BT v4.0, M.2, two SATA Express ports, two-way SLI and three-way CrossFire. The staples of ASUS’ R&D are here as well, including the Turbo Processing Unit and the Energy Processing Unit, part of the Dual Intelligent Processors design. Other features carried over include BIOS Flashback, MemOK and DirectKey. For new hardware, the Easy XMP switch is a great addition, allowing users to get the full power of their memory without needing to access the BIOS.

The BIOS and software are both upgraded, with the BIOS design adapted to match the motherboard’s brushed metal aesthetic. The BIOS uses a new font to help reading the BIOS much easier, as well as a high contrast display of all the text. Each screen offers vital information such as speeds and temperatures, but one of the big updates to the BIOS is in the fan controls. Users can now test the fans from the BIOS to provide accurate graphs for a fans response to temperature, as well as each of the fan headers being DC or PWM controlled. Another big update is the automatic overclocking options, allowing users to define what they use the system for and what cooling they have in order to provide an appropriate overclock (better cooling, bigger overclock). Features such My Favorites and Last Modified are also slightly upgraded for the new generation.  I have a small gripe regarding the side-swipe of the BIOS causing user experience delay, as well as the consistency of tab width, however it does not effect the performance of the motherboard.

In the software we move from Dual Intelligent Processors version four to version five which adds in a new ‘Turbo APP’ feature. This gives users the ability to define overclocks for various programs, such that if software is purely single threaded then the software can adjust for a higher single-core overclock while reducing the speed of the other cores. The automatic overclocking is also adjusted such that users can define their own stability test length and have greater control of the starting point and peak temperatures. Thus I can ask the system to automatically overclock to a peak temperature of 85ºC and test stability for 1 hour at each point of the scale. This level of granularity will be welcome news to new enthusiasts. Another new feature of note is the alert system that will contact an app on your smartphone if one of the sensors becomes out of a certain range or an unexpected restart occurs while you have some work running.

Performance for the Z97-Deluxe excels in our audio test, giving some of the best dynamic range and THD+N readings we have ever seen. The initial boot time is longer than we were used to with Z87, however newer BIOS versions over time might help in this regard. Idle power consumption was a little high, but the peak power consumption came into line with the other Z97 motherboards we have reviewed. Overclock performance gave us 4.6 GHz on our lackluster sample, which matches other motherboards. DPC Latency for Z97 seems to break through that 140 microsecond barrier that Z87 seemed to have, with the Deluxe giving a 92 microsecond result.

For the combo package, when opening the box it almost feels like someone has dumped a lot of PC paraphernalia on your desk. Out fly several cables for DisplayPort to TB2, a dual port TB2 card, the cables for NFC and WFC as well as those devices themselves along with a mains to USB transformer for the Qi-enabled charging pad. The combo package exacerbates the issue with how to split up some of the features on the motherboard, because using the TB2 card requires the final PCIe slot to be set to x4 which disables two USB 3.0 ports and a SATA Express port, both powered by ASMedia controllers. That essentially puts the cost of the package ($400 - $290 = $110) actually a bit higher because of the loss of functionality. There are other motherboards on the market that offer TB2 for cheaper in this regard. One other point I have seen written about these packages is that users who are onto the wireless charging bandwagon often already have a wireless charger anyway, so another one might not be needed. The counter argument to that is ‘stick this new charger somewhere else around the house’.

Perhaps I am the wrong sort of user for this bundle. I have no Thunderbolt devices that I use on a regular basis. My storage is via Ethernet, my displays are all regular monitors, and my flash drives are all USB. I have also never used NFC, however for a quick log on via my tablet to control my HTPC, I can see the potential. My smartphone, while at the top of the range and expensive, is not wireless charging enabled and the manufacturer does not offer a WLC case for it (that being said, I want my next smartphone to be WLC capable). These features will cater to their specific crowds, and I question the number of users who actually partake in all three of these extras. I can see individuals using one, perhaps two. But unfortunately ASUS cannot issue multiple Deluxe SKUs, and add-on packs for motherboards are not always obvious that they exist because they end up in slightly different sections of a retailer website. Interestingly enough the ThunderboltEX II card (with a single TB port) is available as a standalone purchase for $68.

The Z97 Deluxe is a good product to have, however with it being my first ASUS motherboard review I half feel I am being swayed by the new non-hardware features more than I should be. Non-hardware features, such as the BIOS and the software, have a tendency to filter down into the lower-end of the product stack, perhaps suggesting that the Z97-A ($150) or Z97-Pro ($190) might be of better value. A lot of the price of the Z97-Deluxe is tied up in the extra controllers and connectivity options (SATA Express controllers, USB 3.0 controllers, dual Intel NIC and 2T2R 802.11ac WiFi) as well as engineering feats such as DC+PWM fan headers or the Easy XMP switch. Then again, I really like that switch; it needs to become a default option on every motherboard that allows memory above the specifications.

At this point in time, I cannot say the bundle with TB2, NFC and WLC is good value or if a motherboard package really needs it. There feels like there is too much of a price gap between the plain Deluxe and the bundled package, even if you might technically be saving money from buying them separately. The motherboard itself passed through our testing with minimal effort, however to take advantage of all the features, such as M.2 and SATA Express, users will have to wait several months for the products to come to market. Because Broadwell processors will be a straight forward drop-in, users who get the Z97-Deluxe today should be looking to rebuild their machine when they are released, so they can take advantage of the new storage options at that time. This makes an investment in a Z97-Deluxe an investment in the future. Just make sure you flash the latest BIOS when the time comes around.

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