Gigabyte Z87 Haswell Motherboard Round-Up
Gigabyte's Primary Z87 FeaturesThe heart of Gigabyte’s Z87 platform is its Ultra Durable 5 Plus, which includes its heatsink design, CPU power design, and DualBIOS feature. The heatsinks on these Z87 boards vary somewhat from mainboard to mainboard, but as a line they offer passive, active, and water cooling setups around the CPU socket and chipset. For example, the Z87-UD4H has a passive heatsink, but both the G1.Sniper5 and Z87X-OC Force have fans and posts that are geared for liquid coolers.
The motherboards also feature an all-IR (International Rectifier) digital CPU power design, including PWM controllers and PowlRstage ICs that were built to work together to offer precision tuning and optimal cooling.
Gigabyte’s DualBIOS design offers a main BIOS and a backup BIOS--literally, two separate chips--so that if something goes terribly wrong with the main BIOS, the backup is there to ensure that you can recover everything with no trouble.
The company is particularly proud of the quality of their board components. For example, these Z87 boards have black solid caps that are rated for 10,000 hours at 105 degrees C. The USB and LAN ports each have a dedicated protection filter for preventing damaging electrostatic discharges, and Gigabyte also used one fuse for every USB port instead of one fuse for multiple ports; the idea is that if a fuse blows, you only lose a single USB port instead of a whole bank. This is actually a rather attractive feature; USB ports are notorious for crapping out at times, so allowing one port to cough up a hairball while the rest remain healthy is a welcome build feature.
Further to the point of craftsmanship, the motherboards’ CPU sockets are gold-plated, which prevents corrosion and thus helps ensure a longer lifespan for the board itself; on some models, such as the Z87X-OC Force, the interior of the PCI and DIMM slots have gold, too. Finally, the PCBs have two layers of copper in the circuit board sandwich, which Gigabyte says enables larger power loads to flow from component to component and also wicks away heat better.
Gigabyte has, as is typical, taken great care in the construction of these motherboards, employing small enhancements that add up. For example, the Z87 boards have a high-capacity front headphone amplifier designed to drive 600Ω loads, an Intel Gigabit LAN, and plenty of fan speed support. Each board has plenty of fan connectors (no fewer than 6), and Gigabyte put in OPT fan support, so users can implement a water pump that will run continuously at full speed (or just support a dual-fan cooler).
Gigabyte has also employed cFosSpeed traffic shaping and prioritization technology for better network performance and fast charging of mobile devices connected to USB (whether the computer is on or not) with On/Off Charge 2.
Refreshed Software, The Gigabyte App Center
With the Z87 generation, Gigabyte has completely rethought its bundled software. There’s always been a lot of applications stuffed onto Gigabyte’s drivers and utilities discs, but now most of them are all under one convenient umbrella called the Gigabyte App Center.
The App Center is now home to @BIOS, USB Blocker, EasyTune, EZ Setup, Smart TimeLock, and Live Update, and they all now have the same simple, flat, black-with-a-single-color look. You can tweak App Center’s appearance by changing the color scheme if you like, which is a nice little touch.
@BIOS lets you update the BIOS from a Windows environment, from a server or via a file, and USB Blocker lets you block or unblock certain USB ports from specific classes of device and password-protect your settings. Smart TimeLock lets you limit access to your computer by either limiting the numbers of hours on a given day that it can be used or setting time periods during which it can’t be used; and of course, you can password-protect those settings. Sorry kiddos.
It’s also probably obvious from the name, but Live Update is your one-stop shop for checking for, retrieving, and installing updates for your motherboard drivers, included software, and even the BIOS.
Gigabyte bundled up several utilities into one app called EZ Setup within the App Center. EZ Setup includes Disk Mode Switch, EZ Smart Response, EZ Rapid Start, EZ Smart Connect, and XHD (for managing storage configurations).
Finally, there’s EasyTune. The application is loaded with tools and features. In addition to BIOS-like system information, EasyTune offers Smart QuickBoost so you can click a button and get an automatic overclock; check for system alerts on fan RPMs and CPU, system, and PHC temps; and adjust phase, frequency, and voltage with 3D Power. Smart Fan 2 is also in EasyTune, and it lets you calibrate your fans as well as switch to a preset setting with a single click.
So that's Gigabyte's Z87 lineup features and software. Let's look at three motherboards from the line-up...