Since the Haswell release, which feels like many moons ago now, we have reviewed several Z87 based boards. Up for torture today is a larger, high-end board, the EVGA Z87 Classified. This board is made to do anything from sit there and look pretty, which it does well I may add, to the ability to handle the extreme cold of Liquid Nitrogen overclocking. Read on to see some of what EVGA has done to their flagship Z87 board!
Specifications & Features
The below list of specifications and featurs were sourced from the EVGA website. One of the most noticeable features is the board’s size. It is not your typical ATX board, she comes in at E-ATX measuring around 10.3″ x 12″. Make sure whatever case this is going into has the room for it.
Another prominent feature of the board is its ability to Quad CrossfireX and SLI. With Haswell’s PCIe lanes limited to 16, EVGA put a 48 lane PLX chip on the board to help add lanes. Slot one is exclusively controlled by the CPU and its native 16x lanes, the remainder of the slots are controlled by the PLX chip.
As far as other features, there are eight total SATA3 ports (six native, two on Marvell) which support RAID 0,1,5,10, and JBOD. For USB there are six USB2, and six USB3 ports. It also comes with two Intel Gb Ethernet ports, as well as Blutetooth 2.1. There are six fan headers on the board for all your cooling needs. And last, but not least, is the Creative Sound Core3D quad core audio processor…not a Realtek!
See all the relevant specifications in the slideshow below:
Concerning power are several items from well-designed 90 degree 24-pin ATX power, eight layer PCB, to the dual 8-pin CPU power which can deliver up to 600W to the CPU through some of the 1,150 pins. The CPU pins are said to contain a higher gold content to provide better power delivery. It’s nice to know about the actual voltage going to the components, especially when you are using extreme cooling.
For ease of troubleshooting, the Z87 Classified also comes with DIP switches to quickly disable any of the PCIe lanes to quickly identify any potential issues there. Believe me, its easier to flip those switches instead of removing the GPUs, especially with pots on them. While the aptly named debug LED is there to provide POST code readings, once you enter Windows it displays the temperature.
EVGA has finally brought a better look to its BIOS in this significant redesign. It has added a bit of color, a light blue, and dressed it up quite a bit. Moving around the BIOS is buttery smooth with no delays, so it felt pretty refined in that sense. More on it later. EVGA also gives you three BIOS to use for three different profiles. This is also useful when flashing frequently having a couple spares available. It is as easy as flipping a three-way switch.
We don’t want to forget about the included Bluetooth for ease of connectivity to modern devices like smart phones or tablets, or passive chipset cooling to help keep the noise coming from the board to a minimum. In this case, there is no noise as there is no active cooling anywhere on the board.
Packaging & Accessories
The retail packaging is larger than normal as we expect having an E-ATX board residing inside. It is mostly black with the Z87 Classified namesake emblazoned in a gunmetal/grey writing in the middle. Like usual, there are some features listed on the front such as its non discriminatory policy on quad SLI and CrossfireX support, and Intel CPU support among other things.
Flipping the box around to expose the bottom of the box shows us a picture of the board as well as go over some features, such as its 3-year warranty, 24/7 support, and step-up plan among other technical highlights.
Not too much to see on the top and sides but more marketing goodies on what makes the board tick.
What’s Inside and Accessories
When we open up the exterior packaging, it exposes another box which houses the motherboard and its accompanying accessories. In opening up the box, you are presented with the many included accessories with the motherboard sitting protected below them. After the slideshow there is a list of all the included accessories.
- EVGA Driver Installation Disc
- Rear Case I/O Panel
- Rear Case I/O Cover
- 1 Probelt Cable
- 4 GPU Link Cables
- 4 SATA 6G Data Cables
- 2, 3, and 4 way SLI Bridges
- 2 Port USB 3.0 Bracket
- Visual Installation Guide
The EVGA Z87 Classified
Like in past versions of the Classified, black is the predominant color being used. On the Z87 Classified, about the only color we see is on the chipset cooler which has a red stripe on it with the word “Classified” across it, as well as up the road a bit on the heatpipe is a red metal plate with the EVGA moniker. Further up the ‘pipe’, the VRM section is cooled by good sized, rounded black heatsink resting on top.
The audio section in the lower left has the now seemingly standard separation from the other parts of the board which helps minimize any EMI effects from them. On the lower right working up, eight SATA3 ports, the 90 degree 24-pin ATX lead, and power/reset buttons.
Overall, its a good looking board. But you know me, I am a sucker for conservative and understated pieces. But really, can you go wrong with black and red accents?
A Closer Look
Zooming in a bit on the board, the PCIe area has five PCIe 16x, and PCIe 1x. The top slot is controlled by the native 16 PCIe lanes that come from the CPU, while the bottom are using the 48 lane PLX PEX 8747 chip for those duties. The lanes divide down to slot 1 16x/8x, slot 3 (no second slot) 16x/8x, slot 4 – 8x, slot 5 – 16x/8x, slot 6 – 1x, slot 7 – 8x
Moving counter clockwise up the board, to the right of the SATA ports, there are a couple of fan headers, the PCIe dip switches, the BIOS switch to flip through its three BIOSs. Next to that is the 90 degree 24-pin power lead (love that design!), as well as debug LED. As we keep traveling up that side of the board we will then run into the EZ-voltage read points, the power/reset buttons, and on the top side of the board next to the DIMM slots is the CMOS reset. There really isn’t too much to say about the DIMMs. Four slots supporting up to 32 GB of dual channel goodness is available here.
Around the CPU socket are a total of eight phases hiding under that mostly round heatsink. Enough to get the CPU well past 6GHz! In order to feed the power to such a high clocked CPU, EVGA put two 8-pin AUX CPU +12V connectors, which will allow 600W to the CPU. Plenty. The socket area is mostly clear of obstructions, so any insulating you will need to do for sub-zero benchmarking should also be fairly easy.
In the next picture, I isolated the audio section for you to look at. EVGA mentions the CreativeSound Core3D quad core audio processing using the Creative CA0132 chip to do the dirty work.
The I/O area houses the previously mentioned Bluetooth on top of two USB2 ports with two more USB2 ports next to them. Alongside those are Intel NICs on top of two USB3 ports each. Also nearby is a rear CMOS reset button as well as two thunderbolt ports. Finally, we wrap it up with the audio. Your typical analog options are there as well as an optical out.
Across the bottom of the board, there really isn’t too much here honestly. On the left is a PCIe 6-pin connector for when you run multiple cards (gives an alternate power source than the 24 pin for the slots), USB2 port, one of six three-pin fan headers, and your front panel connections.
The next picture simply shows a better shot of two more three-pin fan headers, the PCIe on/off DIP switches, and the triple BIOS switch.
Next up is the SATA ports. Here we see a total of eight as advertised with six being native to the chipset and the two others (the two on the right or top if the board is vertical with the CPU socket up top) are handled by the Marvell controller.
Moving on up that side of the board is a closer look at the 90 degree 24-pin ATX plug, the debug LED, EX voltage read points, and the reset/power buttons.
UEFI BIOS, Overclocking Software
Moving on to the BIOS, I just want you to take a look at what EVGA has (finally?) done to their UEFI BIOS. It is A LOT more attractive than previous versions. It has a black background with an almost slate blue type color throughout. I have to admit, while it may not be the best looking, this is a HUGE step forward for EVGA compared to their last UEFI implementations and looks pretty darn good to me. The pictures were captured using BIOS 1.04. As of now, 1.05 is the latest available on the EVGA website.
The top part gives you a summary of what is going on currently in the system. The top left shows total memory slots available and which are populated with what capacity and speeds. Below that displays the current CPU and memory voltage. In the middle is more information such as the multiplier, BCLK, number of cores, and if Hyper-threading is active or not. On the top right side, it shows the PCIe lanes, what is populated and its speed. For example, I have one card out of the five possible locations. The first slot is populated and running at 16x PCIe3 as I would like it to. Finally, below the PCIe configuration summary, it shows VRM and CPU temps.
As far as overclocking options go… just take a look. They are all there, and more even. BCLK, straps, power limits, voltage, multi, etc, etc… it is all simply there. As far as ergonomics go, it was easy to move around and find things, though my preference for the location of the BCLK, Advanced CPU, etc would be at the top. Nothing “page down” can’t remedy, but I would have preferred it up top.
The Memory tab is next when moving from left to right. Here again we have all the things you need and then some. Timing adjustment is down to the tertiary level even. Perhaps that is where our resident memory gurus play, but not this guy. I am just not a memory tweaker in that respect. But lord knows, if you want granular memory control, you have it here (as you darn well better for a board of this caliber).
Moving on to the Advanced tab, this is where one would change things like how your SATA ports and LAN are setup (pictured), as well as PCIe, onboard graphics, USB, and Intel Rapid Start Technology among other things are located here.
The boot tab is pretty self explanatory I think…
There is not too much to say about E-Leet honestly. This CPUz look-a-like with edit functions really hasn’t changed much at all. This version had trouble reading some things, but I have to admit I am not sure if it was my fault (installed everything including Intel chipset and ME drivers) or not. But it shows temperatures, voltages, BCLK speed, multiplier, etc.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K @ 3.8 GHz (Stock) and 4.9Ghz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||EVGA Z87 Classified|
|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|
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 performance differences between motherboards, so we are going with simple screenshots of the results. Since I finally have a few boards to compare against, I have thrown together a couple of graphs at the end.
AIDA64 and MaxMemm2 – 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)
Since the last review of the Z87X-OC from Gigabyte, I have added these graphs to compare the boards we have tested against each other in all of our testing. Due to boards having their own stock frequencies I have been using the 4.9GHz clocks to compare head to head.
In looking at the graph, we really see quite a bit of parity as we expected. Throughout the testing, results among all board were usually within a percentage point. There are some stragglers there, but, we can see these are remarkably similar.
Moving over to Cinebench R10 and R11.5, all the results are within 1.7% of each other. It’s when we get into MaxMemm that things start to take a turn for the worse for this board. The memory speeds MaxMemm is showing (and AIDA confirm) seem to be much slower, to the tune of between 15-20% mostly, for whatever reason. I tried adding a bit of voltage all around (relevant to DRAM/IMC/BUS), lowering clocks, and different versions of the programs, but still this board was plain old slower by a fair margin. Another review on this board that used the Sandra benchmark also showed similar results. So, I am not sure what is going on with the memory bandwidth, but there seems to be something wrong. I am working with EVGA to resolve the issue. If it is board specific or ram module specific, we do not know at this time.
That said, unless you need that speed, it does not seem to be affecting much of anything in our testing as the results are spot on with the other boards. I have reached out to EVGA to see what is wrong with me, or the board. So hopefully we can get the bandwidth numbers up where they ‘should’ be in the near future.
Pushing the Limits
My poor, poor chip… There was a time when this thing sat at 5GHz Cinebench stable at 1.39v… but a few LN2 sessions with 1.8v+ later and things have changed a bit. No matter though, we can still hit 5Ghz without HT (temperature limited) and knock out a few benchmarks.
I pushed the BCLK up to what seems more and more like my chip’s (or my skills) limit in the low 140 range with no issues. Stepping back a bit, the predefined 115/125 BCLK presets in the BIOS also worked well. I have no doubt this board is just fine for getting chilly and really pushing the limits… I wish I had the time to do it honestly.
So EVGA has successfully brought out their full line of motherboards for Z87 in the mITX Z87 Stinger, the ATX sized Z87 FTW, and now the flagship Z87 Classified. With pricing starting at $220 for the Stinger and the FTW, the Classified is in a class all by its lonesome in their lineup at $399. Surprisingly, there are several boards out at that price point and even a lot more expensive.
So let’s get the bad out of the way. Out of the gate, the BIOS that came with the board (1st release BIOS) had a weird behavior in that it would refuse to boot over around 1.37v or so. It also did not play nice with my memory either in that I could not set the XMP profile. Manually setting the timings/speed/voltage did work though. After working with EVGA and another reviewer who had this board, a new BIOS was released (1.04) that resolved the no booting issue over that voltage. Coincidentally, I can now set the XMP profile on my ram. Problem solved… that one at least. The other issue I noticed when compiling the data is that the memory bandwidth seems quite low. This does not seem to affect performance with our testing, though I would like to see the numbers up where they should be. I have tried a couple of things EVGA suggested, but with no luck. I will continue to work on this and report back when we are fixed.
The board does come with some solid features. I like the use of something different than the Realtek chips for Audio. While we do not test for S/N ratio or anything technical, it does sound good with accurate sound stage reproduction which is helpful, especially in FPS type games. Along with the audio, the board can also disable PCIe ports to help aide in troubleshooting. The power delivery area may not be as overbuilt as others can be in this class, but still has the fortitude to push the CPU where you need it to go no matter ambient cooling, or sub zero.
Not only does it have the higher end features, it looks the part too. Again, you all know me by now and I love understated styling in my old age. Black is the new black on this board. Only a couple of red highlights ‘de-cloak’ this board from the stealthy all black look, so it should go well aesthetically with a lot of themes. Just make sure your case/bench can support the E-ATX size and you are good to go.
There are, surprisingly, a lot of choices in the $380+ market with two of them being direct competitors in the Z87-OC Force, and the ASUS MVIE, both formidable boards and costing a bit less. I can’t say to run to this one and get it over the others, but at this point, I do not think you can go wrong with the EVGA Z87 Classified. It is most certainly worth a long look out of those three choices, especially if you plan on using a lot of GPUs for whatever your purpose.
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)