Saturday, 12 October 2013

GIGABYTE Z87X-OC Review Overclocking Oriented Orange at $200

 Last generation saw a new type of product in motherboards: the cheap OC oriented SKU.  At $200-250 we had a single option specifically designed for OC.  This generation, we have several options around that price point, but the GIGABYTE Z87X-OC which we are reviewing today hits it on the nose, or even with a small discount to $186 from time to time.

The purpose of an overclock oriented motherboard is multi-pronged.  One the one hand, at this price point, it provides an outlet for extreme overclockers using sub-zero temperatures to get many of the overclocking features they require.  It will have several specific features for this crowd and perhaps even specific hardware – but the BIOS and software are all written with them in mind.  The other prong is for Joe Public, who might want a nice overclocked system but still to have all the day-to-day features needed.  Joe might not use on-board overclocking buttons or the added hardware, but with a backbone for a daily OC he/she wants something built to withstand.

The Z87X-OC is one of two overclocking oriented boards produced by GIGABYTE this generation – the other is the bigger brother, called the Z87X-OC Force.  The OC Force is double the price but features four-way SLI (due to a PLX 8747 chip), twice as many power phases (which are not cheap), added SATA/USB controllers and a combination air/water power phase cooler.  The Z87X-OC which we are reviewing today could be considered a cut down version of the OC Force, although the Z87X-OC has that price point purpose that proved so popular with Ivy Bridge and Z77 motherboards.  It also features some interesting ideas such as the OC Brace and the OC Ignition switch, both unique to GIGABYTE, an extensive array of overclocking buttons (OC Touch) and an interesting placement for USB ports.


It is hard to pin down what exactly I would want in an overclocking motherboard.  There are a number of elements that would be beneficial to a daily overclocked system but not an extreme overclocking (sub-zero) setup and vice versa.  The trouble with making an overclocking motherboard is that it has to do both – you cannot sell purely to one crowd.  Beyond that, it all comes down to potential compromise and how to deal with it.

With the GIGABYTE Z87X-OC, there are a number of features which fit solely into that extreme overclocker crowd: the OC Touch buttons for on-the-fly overclocking, easy voltage monitoring points, PCIe switches, the OC Brace to align graphics cards properly and OC Ignition to allow the chipset (and GPUs/fans) to remain spinning when the system is turned off.  Arguably none of these are of use to most daily setups.  However we do get OC Connect (the name for the internal USB ports), a dual BIOS system, overclocking oriented power delivery and a PCIe layout suitable for up to four AMD GPUs (or two NVIDIA in SLI), all of which is beneficial to a daily system.

The poignant part of the Z87X-OC is the price.  It comes in at $200 for a lot of extreme overclocking oriented features that do not appear on any other motherboard in this price range (or require spending almost double).  There are a few cutbacks for that price, namely the audio codec is an ALC892 (rather than ALC898 or ALC1150 at this price point), there are no additional SATA controllers and for some reason only two of the chipset USB 3.0 ports are used.  There are two USB 3.0 hubs for another eight USB 3.0 ports, and it seems GIGABYTE went this way to avoid any issues relating to the early chipset revisions and USB 3.0.

In terms of benchmarking results, there is little to separate the Z87X-OC on performance from the expected norm: we get MultiCore Turbo when XMP is enabled to give a full Turbo mode no matter what the load the CPU has.  For our daily overclocking we hit the same speeds as other models due to our limited CPU sample, but the process of getting there was rather easy.  GIGABYTE is now fully onboard with their new HD BIOS and EasyTune revisions, designed to make adjusting features easier than before.

If we were to suggest modifications, it would be aimed at getting the BIOS to report in 60Hz rather than 30Hz, and that in order to implement the Auto Overclock tuning I would suggest moving the requirement to install Flash.  That being said, the auto overclock ended up being very aggressive, causing the system to overheat and de-clock as a result.

The argument can be made for motherboards in this price range that have more features (more SATA 6 Gbps ports, more NICs, WiFi, better Audio), but ultimately GIGABYTE are aiming more for that extreme overclocking crowd that likes to take temperatures below sub-zero.  For them, the GIGABYTE Z87X-OC is geared up to take world records and challenge one or two (or three or four).