CeBIT 2013 took place on the 5th to the 9th of this month but many sites didn’t have as much coverage as they afford to bigger expos like E3, GamesCon or Computex. At CeBIT, tech companies come together to not only show to each other and the public what they’ve been working on, it also gives them the opportunity to network with others and help deliver better services and products in the industry. And boy, did the Haswell-compatible boards come flying out the bag last week, including announcements made for existing hardware as well from MSI.
MSI Gaming Series
MSI’s been teasing their new “Gaming Series” motherboards for the past two weeks and finally showed them off at the trade show. The three boards are based on LGA1155 and we’ve seen them before – in fact, the “vanilla” versions are all available to buy today. The main differences between the “vanilla” versions and the “Gaming Series” is the custom chipset heatsink featuring a dragon motif, integrated Killer Ethernet E2200 Gigabit network card, VRM heatsinks shaped in the head of a dragon, integrated Creative Soundblaster 7:1 audio and, in the case of the Z77-GD65, two USB 3.0 ports that support higher polling frequencies for gaming mice and keyboards.
MSI also had a Haswell-compatible board on show as well, although it’s still in the early stages of development so it looks butt-ugly, just like their older Nehalem-based boards that also came with light brown PCBs. The Z87A (soon to be a “Gaming” series board as well) features a 16-phase VRM, four DDR3 slots for 64GB of dual-channel memory (meaning 16GB modules are on their way to becoming cheap), three PCI-Express 3.0 16x slots along with another four PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots, eight SATA 6GB/s ports, 7:1 surround sound by Creative Soundblaster, Dual HDMI ports along with two Displayport outlets and it uses two 8-pin PEG connectors for powering the CPU.
Something that I’ve been hoping that board manufacturers do, however, has finally been implemented starting with the Z87A. There’s only sixteen PCI-E 3.0 lanes available, but the board splits that into x8/x8/0 when two slots are filled, or x8/x4/x4 when all three slots are occupied. If that seems a bit low to you, remember that PCI-E 3.0 slots have as much as twice the available bandwidth over the previous generation. A PCI-E 3.0 x4 is comparable to a PCI-E 2.0 x8 slot and so on. I’ve wondered when manufacturers would leave the 2.0 specification behind to save on money and board space and it looks like Haswell will usher that in for Intel fans.
Gigabyte’s Z87 series also surfaces
Gigabyte’s one of the manufacturers that everyone pays attention to, along with ASUS and MSI. They’re just more well-known around the world these days, even though other AIBs like ASRock and even Biostar are making a big comeback with some good products. It was the UD and the D-series family that made their presence known last week and I managed to find a few pictures before Gigabyte started asking some sites to take them down.
The baby in the range, the Z87X-D3H starts off with a 8-phase VRM, six SATA 6GB/s ports, three PCI-E 3.0 slots that knuckle-down to x8/x4/x4 mode when in use and six USB 3.0 ports, two by an internal header. The UD3H version brings that up a little with the same heatsink configuration, two extra SATA 6GB/s connectors through an external chipset, HDMI and Displayport-out as well as a on-board power button, what looks like old-school DIP switches to the right of it as well as a Port 80 Debug viewer. The UD5H goes all-out, featuring ten SATA 6GB/s ports, a massive 16-phase VRM, some tiny status LEDs around the CPU area and a single 8-pin PEG connector. Strangely enough, it doesn’t look like the third PCI-E slot is the right size, although these boards are only examples of products that will be working and finalised in future. Gigabyte has already drawn out the big gun, though, the Z87X-OC.
Forged in the fires of Mount Doom (just kidding), the OC is a massive eATX board that looks to be aimed squarely at ASRock’s Z77 OC Formula. It even mimics the black-and-yellow colour scheme as well as the on-board buttons for easy overclocking on the top right, along with several DIP switches that tell the BIOS what mode it’s operating under (LN2 switches it to LN2 mode for extreme overclocks and removing the chance of cold boot bugs) and there’s a blue CMOS reset switch. Below the button layout is also a set of status LEDs for various voltages, telling you which parts of the board don’t like the stress when you’re raising things up too high or two low. In fact, this may actually be a better solution than the OC Formula, because with this you’ll probably never need to boot into the BIOS, ever! Expect many tech sites to droll over this board when its out.
There’s also a four and eight-pin PEG power connector for the CPU, three PCI-E 3.0 slots capable of x8/x4/x4 operation, a fourth PCI-E 2.0 x4 slot at the bottom, six SATA 6GB/s ports, nine USb 3.0 ports, an eight-phase VRM and another 6-pin PEG connector to power extra circuitry on the board that’s fed by the PCH, located next to the SATA ports. This thing is insane.
BIOSTAR slides in with an easy approach
Not confident with going the road that has bigger players on it, BIOSTAR seems to have started with their low-end products first and sticks to the reference designs for the most part, choosing to make their boards run better for the majority rather than for gamers and overclockers. The AIB is punting its Puro HiFi technology again with these three boards, putting on its own in-house sound cards in favour of the more common Realtek solution.
The HiFi-H87S3 Plus is a mATX design and trims out all the optional extras. There’s a simple four-phase VRM, HDMI, DVI and VGA-out, Gigabit LAN, DDR3 support up to 32GB, big-standard 5:1 surround sound and six SATA 6GB/s ports, along with a single PCI-E 3.0 16x slot. There is front-panel USB 3.0 support and the board just ticks all the right boxes, making it possibly a popular option for budget-limited buyers who are likely to pair this with a Core i3 of some sort. Its bigger brother, the HiFi-B85S2, is a slightly slim ATX design based on the B85 chipset, butg removes two DIMM slots, compensating for the loss by adding in a second PCI-E 3.0 slot and a better version of the Puro HiFi sound chip, as well as making the board ESD-proof (supposedly).
The HiFi-Z87X 3D makes a large jump forward, shoving in a twelve-phase VRM cooled by heatsinks, more ESD protection, the Puro HiFi 3D chipset and a third PCI-E 3.0 slot, run at x4 lanes just like the other boards here. The placement of the USB 3.0 header is a bit odd and the space issues could have been solved by making the PCB a little larger. It probably won’t be a fantastic overclocker, but the functionality is there. On a more interesting note, does anyone see PCI slots on the high-end boards? They are slowly being abandoned in favour of the smaller standard.
ASRock keeps a low profile, for now
ASRock’s one of those old-school brands that’s coming back into popularity for offering more value-orientated products than what the market is commonly used to. Their Pro3 and Extreme 4 are snapped up quickly by buyers and both even do relatively well in the overclocking stakes. They’ve shown off two new boards for the B85 and the Z87 chipsets and they’re sticking to their tried-and-tested formula.
The B85M is rather unique, putting the power connectors on the top of the board and lining up the SATA slots next to the DIMM slots. There’s a weak three-phase VRM for the CPU, 7:1 audio, six SATA 6GB/s ports, Gigabit ethernet, one PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot and one PCI-E 2.0 x4 slot sandwiching two PCI slots and a host of legacy connectors. Like the B75 boards, this one is clearly aimed a budget rigs or use in business environments because there’s not a lot to fiddle with. The power connector placement is also interesting, because that means that the ITX variant of their boards should have roughly the same placement.
The Extreme6 bumps up the VRM to ten phases, has the three-slot PCI-E 3.0 layout as the other vendors, eight SATA 6GB/s slots, a (surprise!) floppy connector (meaning there’s also a Fata1ty version of this), a Port 80 Debug screen, on-board power and reset buttons, DVI, VGA and what looks like HDMI and Diasplayport-out. There’s also a half-size PCI-E slot for connecting up a small wireless card, although I doubt it’d house an mSATA SSD. Something really interesting to note is how small Intel’s PCH has become. It used to be huge back in the day. Both boards will get PCH heatsinks, so what you’re seeing here isn’t the final design.
Also on display was a branded ITX chassis. It takes a slot-loading optical drive and uses riser cards and a low-profile power supply that sits above the motherboard. The board itself, the Z87E-ITX, features six VRM phases, six SATA 6GB/s ports, 7:1 surround sound, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, DVI and Displayport are all standard and, curiously enough, a mSATA-compatible PCI-E slot as well as cables for a wireless card. Where on earth that plugs into is anyone’s guess, although it’d probably be for the small PCI-E slot, the wires would just have to be a bit longer. Still, a fantastically efficient design.
More motherboards will be on their way as Haswell’s launch draws closer and expect to see about three times the boards you’ve seen here today at this year’s Computex. Stay tuned to NAG Online to make sure you get all the info!
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