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ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 Motherboard Review

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Motherboard Testing Methodology

After a few years of testing motherboards, I’ve noticed that motherboards based on the same chipset tend to have very similar performance. This wasn’t always the case, but now that the memory controller’s in the processor, and the PCI-E lanes are in the chipset, it’s not surprising that everyone’s “Y22″ chipset motherboard performs pretty much alike…at stock settings, anyway. Haswell collapses the field even further by moving voltage regulation circuitry onto the CPU. Say goodbye to those exotic 24-phase CPU power supplies of yore…

So testing motherboards, unlike testing CPUs or video cards, is more about examining the proprietary features that make one different from another, as well as testing a board’s overclocking ability, especially if it’s marketed to the enthusiast community.

The ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 motherboard offers two automatic overclocking options, both in the BIOS. The first is a simple EZ System Tuning toggle at the upper right of the main screen, and you can switch between normal, eco, and “ASUS Optimal” mode.

asus_z97_sabertooth_bios_asus_optimal

The second is the confusingly similar EZ Tuning Wizard, invoked from the main BIOS screen by pressing F11. This will ask you a simple series of questions about your system, starting with your intended usage:

asus_z97_sabertooth_bios_ez_tuning2

Next, you’re asked about your cooling:

asus_z97_sabertooth_bios_ez_tuning3

The final screen shows the estimated result of the tune:

asus_z97_sabertooth_bios_ez_tuning4

Now, unlike ASUS’ more sophisticated auto-tune systems, neither EZ System Tuning nor EZ Tuning Wizard iterate through various settings, running a stress test after each until the system crashes. Both appear to use a heuristic to immediately apply a pre-defined overclock. For the EZ System Tuning, aka “ASUS Optical” setting, this was a surprisingly aggressive setting of multipliers of 43-43-42-41 (with 1, 2, 3, and 4 cores loaded), applying the XMP memory profile, and boosting CPU voltage to 1.3 volts.

EZ Tuning Wizard was even more aggressive, setting all cores to 44x and the BCLK to 102mHz and applying the XMP memory profile. However, there was one little problem: it left the CPU voltage at 1.072 volts. When I tried to boot with these settings, the system would blue-screen before booting into Windows. I tried resetting the BIOS defaults and running the tuning wizard several times and got the same results every time. In order to get the system to boot and run I had to manually set the CPU core voltage to 1.3v and lower the BCLK to 100mHz. This voltage error is egregious enough that I can only assume it’s a bug in this early BIOS.

I tested the performance of the system at stock settings as well as with the ASUS Optimal settings and the modified tuning wizard settings, which I list as “manual tune” since that’s really what it was. Although I’ve managed to get this particular Core i7- 4770K to run reliably with 45x multipliers on other motherboards, I was limited to 44x here.

I should note here that like most other modern motherboards, the Sabertooth Z97 by default overrides Intel’s core multipliers so that all cores run at 39x under load. Also, I always ran the memory at its XMP timings.

Test System

  • Motherboard: ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 with BIOS 0801
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4770K “Haswell” CPU
  • System Memory: 8G (2x4G) DDR3-2133 at 11-12-11-30 timings
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GTX580 reference card
  • CPU Cooler: Thermalright Silver Arrow
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium x64

Benchmark Applications

  • AIDA64 Engineer v4.3.2900
  • SPECapc Lightwave
  • x264HD 5.0

I’ll start with synthetic benchmarks in the next section.


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5 comments

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  1. f doggrell

    will the asus sabertooth z97 mark 1 ( or mark 2 ) be fully compatible with the new broadwell cpu ? when will intel finally start selling the broadwell ? great review . thanks .

    1. Caring1

      It will be backwards compatible with current gen Intel processors as well, but you will lose some of the functionality. You will not be able to use Broadwell processors on current gen motherboards.

      1. David Ramsey

        Just to clarify: we know you will be able to use Broadwell CPUs on motherboards with Z97 chipsets. Older chipsets, well, I haven’t heard anything official either way.

  2. David Ramsey

    Broadwell support is the main reason for the existence of the Z97 chipset, so yes, any new motherboard with a Z97 will support Broadwell, although it wouldn’t surprise me if you had to update the BIOS when Broadwell comes out. As to when Intel will start selling Broadwell CPUs: well, it was originally supposed to be late 2nd quarter, but has slipped since then. Hopefully some time this year.

  3. James

    Re the mystery pins, I think it actually says “LPC DEBUG” so I’m guessing it might be to hook up something similar to this: http://amzn.to/1oedVBz

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