ASUS P8Z77 WS Workstation Motherboard Review

The ASUS P8Z77 WS is the latest in the ASUS "Workstation" series and has virtually every feature but the kitchen sink thrown into it. If you are looking for a board that can fill almost any role while utilizing a desktop LGA1155 processor, then this motherboard is worth a serious look. Maybe 4-way 8 Lane PCIe 3.0 gets your attention?

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ASUS AI Suite II

ASUS has been packaging its boards with the AI Suite II software for some time now. It’s pretty much the same for all the boards it makes, though ROG and Sabertooth series boards have differences in the default color schemes and more tailored portions of the application which leverage features specific to boards in those series. Among the main changes to the versions packed with the Z77 boards is vastly improved fan controls and support for UASP and turbo modes as part of ASUS’ "USB 3.0 Boost" feature. I’ll cover these in more detail in the subsystem testing section of the article, but it’s worth noting that these are important changes from earlier versions of the software.

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From an overclocking perspective, there are only three things one need be concerned with. TurboV EVO, DIGI+Power Control, and Fan Xpert 2. The last one being the most optional out of that group, but tuning in that part of the application suite only benefits you, and more specifically your ears if you have a lot of fans. Getting right down to business we go into TurboV EVO which allows us to make all our adjustments to the CPU settings. These include the BCLK frequency, CPU voltage, DDR voltage, VCCSA, VCCIO, CPU PLL, and PCH voltages. Simple arrows on the ends of the sliders allow for quick and easy adjustment to each of these values. The CPU ratio button is probably the most interesting feature here. As you can see in the second screenshot, the board is set to allow us to adjust the turbo frequency of only one core. We can now adjust CPU core limits for a single, dual, three, or four cores now. You simply rotate the bar graphs with roman numerals on them to select how many cores we wish to adjust the turbo multipliers for. Alternatively you can click the check box marked "lock" which will set the application up to control all four cores simultaneously. The third screenshot shows the application configured like so.

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As has been the case with earlier versions, ASUS included an auto tuning or "auto system level up" feature which allows us to automatically overclock the system. You can opt for fast or extreme settings. Your mileage does vary somewhat here, but ultimately the settings achieved through this type of automated overclocking are always fairly conservative. You will not usually see anything past 4.2GHz on any board with such a feature from any vendor; at least not in our experience as of late. I’ve gone back to the standard TurboV EVO screen so that I could point something out. There is a separate pane to the right which gives us dual tabs at the top for CPU and Sensor. The CPU tab (which can be seen in all the screenshots up to this point) gives us our CPU frequency, BCLK and multiplier values, and allows us to see these values for each core by allowing us to cycle through these. Below this we have a CPU usage monitor which shows us usage for both physical and logical CPU cores. Our test 3770K has HyperThreading enabled so we see 8 CPU usage meters. With HyperThreading disabled or with a CPU that doesn’t support the feature we’d see only 4 meters.

Getting back to the sensor option in that right most window pane, we see our voltage, temperature, and fan sensors. As you can see my CPU fan is showing 0 rpm’s because I forgot to connect the monitor for my water pump. So it shows us this value in red. CPU and motherboard temps can be seen here and our main voltages can as well. You can see grayed out monitors for a ton of different fan headers as well.

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Next we move onto our DIGI+ Power Control portion of the ASUS AI Suite II. Like all portions of the software suite, this one has evolved. It’s more complex than it used to be. Settings are now divided into three menus and we have this elaborate selection menu to allow us to choose which part of the tool we want to work with first. I went in order, so Smart DIGI+ was first. Basically there isn’t a whole lot to this section in terms of actual adjustable settings. We have an "OC Now!" button and a default button. When set to OC, this basically sets various power settings for optimal overclocking. Next we have the Smart CPU Power Level setting which gives us two profiles for 45w and 35w respectively. This is like a target power envelope to reach for power savings.

Our DIGI+ Power Control menu is next. This has our CPU Load-Line calibration, CPU Power Phase Control, CPU Current Capability, CPU Voltage frequency, VRM Fixed Frequency mode and CPU Power response, and thermal control settings. These are all power settings which either allow us to set the system up for power savings, hardcore overclocking or strike our own unique balance between the two. Most people won’t need to mess with very many of these settings to achieve a reasonably high overclock, but this kind of granularity is always appreciated as it covers the bases of the novice overclocker, the power savings fanatic, and the upper echelon of hardcore overclockers all at once.

There is also a scroll bar at the side which shouldn’t be forgotten as this leads us to our DRAM current capability, DRAM power thermal control, and DRAM voltage frequency settings. We can also set our DRAM power phase control just like we can for the CPU. This kind of adjustment can aid you in 4 DIMM overclocking should you have the need for it.

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The Fan Xpert 2 is one of the most evolved of all the features of the AI Suite II. When you click on this, the fan auto-tuning function will start. It will identify and label your fans by determining what specific fan headers are being used. Once we’ve let it go through the tuning process it brings us to a profile menu of sorts. We can choose from silent, standard and turbo profiles, or simply use the "Full Speed" button to run the fans at the maximum RPM ranges. We can access our fan auto-tuning menu at any time. In the auto tuning section of Fan Xpert 2, you may notice a line graph "icon" in the corner. It is clickable and this brings us to the more advanced features of the Fan Xpert 2. Here we can cycle through individual fan headers and choose "smart mode" or RPM fixed mode for each. We can save these settings as profiles as well. At the very top of this menu we can edit our fan names and call them anything we wish to.

We can see our RPM fixed mode, which allows us to set a fixed RPM range for our fan header of choice. And in this screenshot I went ahead and made the "edit" button appear so that you could see how easy it is to rename a fan header and call it whatever you want. As you can also see, there is a little fan icon in the corner above the AI Suite logo. Once clicked we get data on our individual fan in terms of supported RPM ranges at given power levels. Maximum speed, minimum, and controllable range values are also shown here. As you can see the fan I have shown here is pretty basic and doesn’t allow for a lot of control. It is a very old fan after all.

So there you have it. ASUS’ AI Suite II is now more evolved and allows us a lot of granular control with regard to turbo ratios for a select number of cores, or all cores. And it allows us a great deal of fan control options on a level I’ve not seen before. And while the utilities interface is largely unchanged aside from increased functionality in these areas, it is as intuitive as their UEFI interface and it’s truly one of the better, if not best motherboard software packages around.