X99 Motherboard BIOS
I’ve reviewed a lot of motherboards over the years, and the introduction of the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS remains the biggest change I’ve seen in how we interact with our systems. The upgrade from keyboard-driven, text-based BIOSes that had to be squeezed into a meager 8K of ROM space to the much more detailed mouse-driven graphical BIOSes we have now was immense.
The problem is that with the new display and motherboard capabilities, designing a BIOS that can present the relevant information in a clear and concise format is a huge challenge. ASUS, in my opinion, does a better job of this than anyone else.
The BIOS for the ASUS X99-A LGA2011-v3 motherboard is virtually identical to the BIOS of its big brother, the X99-DELUXE motherboard, and this is a Good Thing. The first screen you’ll see in the ASUS X99-A BIOS is this:
The home screen, which ASUS calls EZ Mode, is a masterpiece of design, showing you all the information you need without being confusing or graphically complex. You can make simple adjustments to the overall system performance with the EZ System Tuning section at the upper right; below that, you can use the mouse to drag your devices in the order in which you want them to boot. CPU core voltage, temperature, fan speed, SATA devices, and DRAM specifications are all right there, easy to read.
While this screen will be more than adequate for many users, the enthusiast user will immediately press F7 to go into Advanced Mode (you can configure the BIOS so that Advanced Mode is the default, if you wish).
This is where you can really get down and dirty with board settings. Across the top of the screen you’ll see the main sections: My Favorites, Main, AI Tweaker, Advanced, Monitor, Boot, Tool, and finally Exit, which will return you to the EZ Mode home screen.
ASUS has refined their AI Tweaker section over the years, and it allows for extremely fine-grained control over the performance of the system. The general design is that the simple stuff is at the top, and as you scroll down through the (many screens) of settings, the more complex and detailed stuff becomes visible. This screen starts out with relatively simple settings such as CPU core multiplier, cache ratios, and basic overclocking settings. Set the AI Overclock Tuner to “Manual”, start scrolling down, and you can tweak individual memory timing parameters, set CPU core voltage with hundredth-of-a-volt precision, and adjust other settings even I don’t really understand. Many settings show a brief explanatory text at the bottom of the screen when you select them, although some remain obscure. Then again, how can you summarize the t_RDRDr setting under “memory timing”?
The Advanced section is where all the non-performance adjustments live. This includes CPU features like Intel Virtualization Technology and Hyper-threading, and USB and SATA configuration, and so on.
The Monitor section shows you the various component temperatures and voltages reported by the onboard sensors. I’ve never seen the use of this feature, since you have to be in the BIOS to see the data, and by definition your system’s going to be at idle.
Let’s continue our examination of the BIOS in the next section.