In the world of Haswell and the new Z87 chipset, Overclockers.com has reviewed a plethora of motherboards supporting this new CPU. Low-end boards, mid-range, and even high-end boards made mostly for the extreme overclocker have graced the front page. Today we move to a slightly different segment with the ASUS Z87-WS motherboard. The “WS” stands for workstation and this motherboard is intended to bridge the gap between a server and consumer level board. Support for server class CPU’s, support for RAID cards and other miscellaneous PCIe cards, as well as having a boat load of ports to round out functionality are what this board is all about. It is time to see if she board can live up to its “WS” nomenclature as others with it have done in the past!
Specifications & Features
Below is the specifications list from the ASUS website. It’s long, it’s drawn out as all spec tables are, but here it is for your scrolling pleasure!
|ASUS Z87-WS Specifications|
|CPU||Intel® Socket 1150 for 4th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron®/Xeon® E3-1200/12×5 v3 series Processors
Supports Intel® 22 nm CPU
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2600(O.C.)/2500(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/1866(O.C.)/1800/1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
|Graphic||Integrated Graphics Processor *1
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort /Mini DisplayPort ports *2
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 3840 x 2160 @ 60 Hz
Maximum shared memory of 1024 MB
Supports up to 3 displays simultaneously
|Multi-GPU Support||Supports NVIDIA® 4-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD 4-Way CrossFireX Technology
|Expansion Slots||4 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (dual x16 or x16/x8/x8 or quad x8)
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
|Storage||Intel® Z87 chipset :
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), yellow
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Marvell® PCIe 9230 controller :
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), black
Support Raid 0, 1, 10
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller :
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
|LAN||Intel® I210, 2 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)|
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– High quality 112 dB SNR stereo playback output (Line-out at rear) and 104 dB (Line-in)
Audio Feature :
– Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
– DTS Ultra PC II
– DTS Connect
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– BD Audio Layer Content Protection
|IEEE 1394||1 x IEEE 1394a port(s)
(1 at mid-board)
|USB Ports||Intel® Z87 chipset :
3 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (1 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z87 chipset :
9 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (4 at back panel, , 5 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
3 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (3 at back panel, blue)
|Workstation Features|| x PCIe x 16 slot(s)
Quick Gate: 1 x vertical USB 2.0 on board
ASUS Dr. Power
|Special Features||ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors 4 with 4-Way Optimization :
– The tuning key perfectly consolidates ASUS-exclusive DIGI+ Power Control, TPU, EPU, and Fan Xpert 2 optimize the digital power setting, system performance, power saving and whole system cooling configuration
ASUS EPU :
– EPU switch
ASUS Digital Power Design :
– Industry leading Digital 8 Phase CPU Power Design
– Industry leading Digital 2 Phase DRAM Power Design
– ASUS DIGI+ VRM Utility
– CPU Power Utility
– DRAM Power Utility
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– TurboV EVO
– GPU Boost
– USB BIOS Flashback
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger+
– USB Charger+
– Onboard Button : Power/Reset
– Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
– ASUS SSD Caching II
– Network iControl
– USB 3.0 Boost
– Disk Unlocker
ASUS EZ DIY :
– Precision Tweaker 2
– ASUS O.C. Profile
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 2
– Multi-language BIOS
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
– ASUS Q-Connector
100% All High-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors
Overclocking Protection :
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
|Back I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
2 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0
4 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to USB BIOS Flashback)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
1 x Mini DisplayPort(s)
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin, blue)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x USB 2.0/1.1 vertical port
1 x TPM connector(s)
1 x COM port(s) connector(s)
10 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x mSATA connector
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
2 x 8-pin EATX 12 V Power connector
1 x 6-pin EATX 12 V_1 Power connector(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s)
1 x Chassis Intrusion connector(s)
1 x DirectKey Button(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x TPU switch(es)
1 x EPU switch(es)
1 x Dr.Power switch
1 x COM port cable(s)
10 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x 3-Way SLI bridge(s)
1 x 4-Way SLI bridge(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x 2-port USB2.0 + 1394 bracket(s)
|BIOS||64 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 2, ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3, My Favorites, Quick Note, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions, and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information|
|Manageability||WfM 2.0, DMI 2.7, WOL by PME, PXE|
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
|Note||*1 Intel® HD Graphics support
*2 DisplayPort 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DisplayPort 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
*3 These SATA ports are for data hard drivers only. ATAPI devices are not supported.
*4 supports ASUS USB 3.0 Boost
Next, we’ll look at some of the major feature of this board. While some really do not showcase the type of board that it is, they are certainly worth a mention. All the features this board offers can be seen at the ASUS website for this model.
First, the WS’s ability to hold up to four PCIe 3.0 16x devices. As we likely know from the Haswell architecture, in order to run that many slots with decent bandwidth available for, let’s assume GPUs, we need a PLX chip. ASUS has chosen to use the PEX 8747 chip to create some extra lanes so one can get the most out of the GPUs you have installed. For those with high bandwidth applications, such as 3D CAD rendering to name one, this will be a welcomed feature. This board supports both SLI (NVIDIA) and CrossfireX (AMD) solutions and has plenty of room for quad SLI, or many other things like RAID cards and PCIe based SSD’s.
Next up is ASUS’ implementation of their power distribution. They tout the use of their Dual Intelligent Processor and 4-way Optimization. That includes Digi+ for power control, Fan Expert 2 to control the fans, TPU to adjust CPU performance, and last but not least, EPU for energy efficiency. In the EZ mode of the BIOS, you can select which way you ‘lean’ and select it (pictured later).
ASUS has worked on updating their BIOS across their line and the Z87-WS was also included. They gave you a choice in this BIOS of an easy and advanced mode so it can be as simple as you want, or quite granular. One really neat thing I like about this BIOS is the ability to customize it to your liking as well as the ability to add notes anywhere along the way. There is even a ‘change log’ so you can see what adjustments were made during your current BIOS session. These are some awesome features, especially for the overclocker. Its a good implementation and works quite well, but it is not the fanciest around aesthetically speaking.
The Z87-WS also comes with a boost in performance to USB3 via their USB3 boost utility. This supports UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) USB 3.0 in Windows 8. ASUS states increases using this technology of up to 170%. Even if you do not have Windows 8, the turbo mode should also give your USB3 devices a boost. I thought this to be a good thing on this type of board as many times one may be working on files from the office that are stored on USB3 drives, which helps to increase actual productivity instead of idle time.
ASUS, like every other board manufacturer has Windows based software to supplement the BIOS. As most know that is their AI Suite. On this board ASUS uses the new AI Suite III. In this suite, you have overclocking control, fan control, and power usage control, just to scratch the surface. I like the look of this software, it rivals MSI’s as far as appearance goes in my opinion and the functionality/stability is also there.
Another feature I wanted to mention here was the ASUS Dr. Power. This tool attempts to proactively inform you if there are power issues with your system and provides notifications in case power delivery is not up to snuff. I haven’t seen anything like this on any other board and I think it can be a valuable addition for this class of motherboard. However, it is a software reading so its accuracy can be questioned. Never the less, if it warns you, one may want to get out the multi-meter to double check its readings before buying another power supply.
Being a workstation class board, ASUS equipped it with dual Intel server class NIC’s, specifically the I210. These, according to ASUS, should show 43% less CPU utilization and 20% lower temperatures.
The last feature I would like to discuss is the unique SSD caching offered on this board, called ASUS SSD Caching II. This allows the end user more freedom to choose the right caching configuration for your needs. With this, you are not limited to one 60GB SSD to cache a HDD. For example, you can use a couple of SSD’s to cache one HDD to aggregate performance, or one SSD to cache one HDD and another SSD to cache a different hard drive. There are many options from which to choose from with the ten SATA3 ports. Great flexibility there.
Packaging & Accessories
Ok, enough of the features already! It’s time to start looking at the board itself. We will first start off with its retail packaging as I normally do. The basic design is black with the model name in large lettering on the front. Of course it shows some of its features on the front as well.
On the back side is a picture of the motherboard pointing out some of its features as well as descriptions of it.
The sides, well, that is the side of the box!
This box has a flip top lid on it which goes over even more features. Once you open up the box, you are greeted with a pretty large accessory stack with the board resting safely below a cardboard partition.
Next up is the accessory stack. Below is a list of everything you receive, which is anything you would need to get this board up and running without having to go back to the store.
- User’s manual
- Accessory Guide
- ASUS Q-Shield
- 1 x COM port cable(s)
- 10 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
- 1 x 3-Way SLI bridge(s)
- 1 x 4-Way SLI bridge(s)
- 1 x SLI bridge(s)
- 1 x 2-port USB2.0 + 1394 bracket(s)
The ASUS Z87-WS
Now we get to see the board in all its goldenrod glory! As you can see, ASUS has chosen a pretty interesting color theme with the black PCB and gold colored ‘trim’. I have to admit when I first saw these on the internet, my response was not a positive one. There were flashes of Austin Power’s Goldmember going through my head in fact! Funny movie, not so funny color on a motherboard. All joking aside, seeing the board in person stopped that train of thought. It really isn’t bad. Not great, but not as bad as I thought. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
You can see some of the features this board has, such as the ability to run four cards, the ten SATA3 ports, and the dual LED debug among other things.
Flipping over the board there isn’t much to see there. The four PCIe ports are configured electrically to x16/x8/x16/x8, otherwise we should move on.
A Closer Look
One of the first things I like to look at is the socket area. Here we can see a closer view of the golden heatsinks. I have to admit, I like the design of the heatisinks on this board better than the ‘monolithic’ blocks on some boards. The ribbing these heatsinks display just seem like it would work better with airflow going through the blocks. That said, I do not know Thermodynamics too well so I could be mistaken. All in all, it keeps thing cool, and as you will see do not appear to be holding significant overclocks back. But man… that gold color!!!
Next we will take a look at the bottom half of the board. From left to right we have the audio section supported by the Realtek ALC1150 chip. The audio on this board is not separated like in other boards, note. The PCIe area, as was noted earlier, will support Quad GPUs for your graphical design work. There are also two PCIe x1 slots between ports 2/3 and 3/4. If these are needed you will want a single slot GPU when running two or more cards, otherwise they will be covered up. Last in this picture we see the PCH heatsink.
Sliding up to the DIMM area we see the typical four DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB of ram. Also in this area you can see a front USB3 header, the 24 pin power lead, the EPU and TPU switches, and finally the direct key (boot to BIOS), and Mem OK! Button. There is a closeup picture of these switches and button in the bottom right hand picture also.
Moving around to the upper left hand corner shows the two 8 pin power leads (only one is required).
Next we move around to the inputs and outputs of the board. We will start with the bottom of the board. From L to R we have the Front Panel audio connections, power/reset buttons, TPM connector, IEEE 1394 port, Q-code LED, USB2 connectors, and finally, the system panel connector.
Next up are the WS’s 10 SATA3 ports. Six (gold) are native to the Z87 chipset, while the other four (black) are from a third party controller we will touch on a bit later.
The rear I/O is pretty easy to pick things out really. From L to R again we have a legacy PS/2 port on top of two USB2 ports. Next to that are two USB3 ports resting on two eSATA ports. To the right of those are a mini DisplayPort, an Optical out, HDMI, and full size DisplayPort. We next see one of the Intel NICs on top of two USB3 ports, the BIOS flashback button, the other Intel NIC then rests on two USB2 ports (the bottom one is used for the BIOS flashback feature). To the right of that is the typical audio stack.
Next, I had the chance to take the heatsinks off so we can see what is going on underneath them. At a high level we can more clearly see the eight phases this board has for the CPU. This power setup is plenty to push your overclock wherever you want to go while using ambient temperature cooling methods. The last picture just attempts to show how well it made contact, and it did throughout the heatsinks, so all is well there.
Last up, a slideshow and list of some of the chips that make this board work…
- TPU IC
- Via 6315N – Firewire Controller
- Winbond – BIOS Chip
- Asmedia 1061 – PCIe to SATA Controller
- Asmedia 1074 – USB3 Hub Controller
- Digi + IC
- Digi+ EPU IC
- PEX 8747 – PCIe G3 Switch
- Nuvoton NCT6719D – Super I/O Controller
UEFI BIOS, Overclocking Software
The first slideshow exhibits the UEFI BIOS on the Z87-WS. At a high level, it is easy to navigate out of the box, easy on the eyes, and easy to find what you need, especially if you customize the BIOS which is an awesome feature. Sounds easy doesn’t it? For the most part, it is. I have taken a total of 16 snapshots of the BIOS showing you the plethora of options it has to offer. I will cherry pick a couple and describe them below.
The first picture I want to look at is actually the first in the slideshow. This is the landing page (EZ-mode) when you get into the BIOS. It shows high-level system information like CPU temp and voltage, DRAM information, fan speeds, system performance (power saving, normal, optimal), as well as your boot priority. There are buttons across the bottom that allow you to jump to advanced mode, among other options.
The second slide shows the ‘advanced’ version of the main/landing page. Here you are greeted with a more typical BIOS setup in that across the top you have your different sections to drill into such as, Ai Tweaker, Advanced, Monitor and Boot. One thing you may have noticed are the favorites. In that section you can customize this BIOS and put the pages you use most often into your favorites for easy navigation. I think that is a really cool feature for motherboard BIOS’ for sure.
The next four BIOS screenshots are of the Ai Tweaker section. This is where you will do your overclocking on this board. The first picture of the Ai Tweaker section is one of four in total on that page and is where you will find all the settings you need to overclock your CPU, RAM, as well as voltage/power adjustments. There are plenty of options here to get where you need to go, no doubt.
The next three screenshots are showing the Advanced tab and a deeper option of the CPU and SATA configurations. This tab holds, well, advanced options for a few things. The CPU, PCH, SATA, System Agent, USB, APM, and the Network stack. The next picture shows the advanced CPU options where you would be changing things like the amount of active cores, and HT to name just two of the many options. The advanced SATA screen just shows what drives are on what ports. The neat thing about this is you can personalize the names of the ports/drives.
The next couple of screenshots show the advanced System Agent, and onboard devices (NIC/USB etc).
Next up is the monitoring screens (3) where you can see your CPU temperatures and voltage, motherboard temperatures, and even your major power rail voltages (3.3 V, 5 v, 12 v). This is also where you adjust your fan speeds.
Our last two BIOS screenshots are the Boot page, which is where you would adjust your boot order and boot device, among a few other options.
Not pictured is the Tool screen which holds the EZ Flash utility, overclocking profiles, and SPD information for memory modules.
Overall the BIOS on the WS was easy to get through and everything was in, what I felt to be, a logical place. So finding, and changing items should be a breeze. It may not be the prettiest UEFI implementation out there, but it gets the job done and has those cool personalization options mentioned above.
NOTE: ASUS has informed us there will be a new UEFI release specifically for Windows 8.1 users that could be available by the time this article publishes. Keep an eye out if you are using Windows 8.1.
As far as Windows utilities for overclock and other functions, ASUS has their new AI Suite III to show off. I will just let the pictures speak for themselves here. This is a pretty implementation and has what one would want in such a utility and its stable. Everything from overclocking and voltage adjustments, power saving features (EPU), power control (DiGI+), fan control, BIOS updating, and network traffic prioritization and routing (iControl) is included. AI Suite III has what you need, and in my opinion looks really good in doing so.
NOTE: Some are having issues with an ‘access violation’ error when using AI Suite III. ASUS has mentioned to us that a new release of the software, due out around mid-October, will resolve this issue.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K @ 3.9 GHz (ASUS stock speeds)|
|Motherboard||MSI Z87 XPower|
|RAM||2×4 GB Kingston HyperX Predator DDR3-2666 11-13-13-32|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 780 Lightning|
|Solid State Drive||256 GB Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1 (Fresh Install)|
Below are the stock and overclocked results for this setup. Like usual in my motherboard reviews, I have used AIDA64 (latest version), Maxmemm, SuperPi 1M/32M, Wprime 32M/1024M, Cinebench R10/R11.5, and Pifast. In most cases there are very few differences between motherboards so we are going with simple screenshots of the results. Once I get a couple more Z87 boards, perhaps I will throw them on a graph so we can make some comparisons.
AIDA64/Maxmemm – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R10 and R11.5 – CPU Rendering benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single threaded CPU benchmark
WPrime 32M and 1024M – Multi threaded CPU benchmark
Overall Performance (Compared to other boards)
The graphs you see here are the first of its kind for my reviews. They intend to show the differences between all the boards I have reviewed so far on this platform. We (I) normally do not include such metrics as, generally, the difference between motherboards for all these tests are within the margin of error for the most part. Some boards may have some features that make things shine over others, for example the T-Topology used in some boards can help with better memory speeds. But for the most part, they are really all equal out of the box. I used the 4.9 GHz clock speeds to make it fair among the boards as some boards like to ‘cheat’ and put the full turbo boost on all the cores while others do not. So in order to take that variable out of the equation, I tested at the 4.9 GHz CPU speed mentioned above and used the XMP profile for 2400 Mhz on the ram.
Our first set of tests puts Super Pi 1M, 32M, Wprime 32M/1024M, and Pi fast as the benchmarks of choice. As you can see, the ASUS Z87-WS holds its own against the other boards as expected. There really isn’t too much of a difference to speak of here.
Moving on to rendering and memory bandwidth, we see at least for the rendering the ASUS WS is right where one would expect it to be, on par with others. However, after looking at the Maxmemm results, this board is for some reason lacking by a few percentage points in the Read and Copy portions of this benchmark. I thought it to be anomolous or possibly my settings, but I double checked everything and re-benched a few times with very similar results, so it is what it is there. That said, I doubt this will affect anything to a noticeable degree.
Pushing the Limits
As far as pushing the limits, I was able to get this CPU up to its seemingly now standard 5.1 GHz and bench the usual single threaded benchmarks on it. I am limited temperature wise on anything 3D or multi-threaded that high. Part of the reason is because I believe my CPU is degrading a bit after a couple of LN2 runs which saw up to 1.9 V at around -110° C. I used to be able to run AIDA64 stability test around 1.3 V at 5 Ghz but that isn’t close to happening these days… Oh well. I added some BCLK testing to the mix as well as that seems to be board and CPU dependent. So far, on two boards, I can reach 155 BCLK. Not too shabby, but I think that is the end of it for my chip so perhaps it isn’t a great barometer. But suffice it to say, this board will take it there.
Well, we come to the end, folks. Here is where we put our stamp of choice on it. And without further rambling, the board is approved. It has tons of features starting with the number of SATA ports and its ability to cache multiple SSD’s on a single or multiple drives to help increase throughput and subsequently productivity for the professional user. For the Graphics designer that needs an incredible amount of GPU horsepower, this board does support up to four GPU’s in an x8/x8/x8/x8 configuration, again to get that work done in a faster time versus other boards that cannot support this many GPUs. Overall the board is solid and stable out of the box, which is an important part of a workstation class motherboard.
If you are an overclocker, the board can handle that too with ease, due to its 8 phase CPU power and ‘goldenrod themed’ heatsinks to whisk away whatever heat they may develop in doing so. The ASUS Z87-WS also sports two Intel NIC’s to help access anything not on your local machine.
About the only drawback I can think of may be the price point. At $289.99 on newegg.com it is up there with a lot of high-end boards. However, those boards are generally geared towards overclocking and gaming for the most part and not as a ‘workstation’ type of board. While this board will do well overclocking and gaming, those boards may not be able to run four graphics cards, utilize Xeon (server class) CPUs, have as much compatibility for RAID cards and PCIe devices, or certainly to scale SSD/HDD caching performance. So its kind of a niche product in that respect really. You have to pay to get gaming and overclocking features, you have to pay to get workstation like features. In the big picture though, time is money, and this board can help one more efficiently get their work done so this can likely pay for itself in a short time due to potential productivity increases.
That out of the way, if you are looking to hop up your workstation performance and need some of the features this board offers over others, you need to take a serious look at the ASUS Z87-WS board before anything else. As mentioned above, this board is Overclockers.com Approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)