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ASUS X99-A Review

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ASUS X99-A Closer Look:

ASUS sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd in many ways with the software and hardware packages, but one of the best things the company has done over the past few generations has been the implementation of the CrashFree UEFI BIOS. Starting with the P67 chipset launch, the UEFI BIOS has been getting smoother and easier to use, with new features added as each new generation is released.

New for the Z87, then Z97 chipset, and Haswell launch, were some really cool features, such as a more in-depth EZ mode and a Last Modified tab that tracks changes as you work though the BIOS, presenting the user with a map to the options used to generate the performance settings or even just the mundane changes. You also get: Quick Note to leave yourself messages in the BIOS, or to list specific settings so you can remember them; F4 shortcuts menus for your favorites; SATA Port renaming; and the EZ Tuning Wizard, which has to be one of the top additions to the ASUS BIOS. Now with Haswell-E and the X99 platform, ASUS UEFI continues to impress with those same innovations seen on the latest Z97 boards from ASUS.

In the past, EZ Mode was used when you really do not want or need to spend the time going through the advanced section of the BIOS. It can be daunting to the novice user, but the more adept can take advantage of the tuning abilities found in the Advanced section. All the basics are in place to set the boot order, EPU and fan profiles, and illustrate the hardware that is installed in the ASUS X99-A. Here's where it gets interesting – ASUS has totally revamped the EZ Mode, to deliver much of the functionality you get in the Advanced section of the BIOS all on a single page. Adding the 5-Way optimization tool, RAID disk management, fan profile setup, and more on this much enhanced front EZ Mode section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the top right section of the EZ Mode page is the EZ Tuning utility, which walks you through a series of easy-to-answer questions dealing with intended usage, cooling capabilities, storage configuration, and the estimated result from the changes. After the tool does its magic, you end up with a result based on your input. In this case, the EZ Tuning mode delivered an overclock of 4.5GHz speed using a 45 multiplier and 100.0 bclck.

 

 

 

Once you move into the Advanced Mode, there are a total of eight tabs to explore, with the first section being My Favorites. Here is where you get some of the new tweaks to the CrashFree BIOS. You can build a series of shortcuts that allow you to jump straight to certain functionality. In this case, I put shortcuts in place for some quick and easy adjustments. You can add shortcuts by pressing the F4 button and browsing for the items to add. Outside of the eight tabs are shortcuts across the top of the Advanced section to quickly execute the actions. You can set up hotkeys for functions or access the EZ Tuning menu and Q-Fan tuning menu all with one mouse click. Quick Note allows you to leave yourself notes as to what may or may not work, or just simple reminders. Once you choose to exit the BIOS, you get a list of the items last changed.

 

 

The Main page option shows the system time, date, BIOS revision and build date, installed CPU and processor speed, memory capacity, system language, and security options including passwords. Not the section you will spend a lot of time in, but nevertheless a source of some valuable information and functionality.

 

 

The Advanced tab provides a way to manage much of the system functionality. The CPU configuration tab is used to modify the CPU operating parameters outside of the frequency and voltages. PCH Configuration is where you can enable or disable Intel's drive enhancements and PCIe assignments. Onboard device configuration is used to enable or disable onboard hardware. SATA Configuration is used to set up drive operating parameters, as well as showing the port availability. ROG Effects allow you to enable or disable the ROG Pulse, SupremeFX, and onboard lighting.

 

 

 

The Monitor section is just what the name implies. Under each category you can view the operating characteristics and current state of the pertinent voltages, the fan speeds, temperatures, and enable or disable the Q-Fan speed controls. Since Fan Xpert III manages things quite well, the latter should be left alone unless you are looking for full manual control. Lastly, Anti Surge support can be turned on or off in this section.

 

 

Boot: Under this section, Fast Boot can be turned on or off, SATA and USB ports can be enabled or disabled, and DirectKey functionality can be enabled to access the BIOS with Fast Boot enabled. Logo display at boot can be turned off so you can view the P.O.S.T. sequence.  Wait for ERROR F1 messages can be turned off (I find this helpful when not running a fan off the CPU fan header), and the boot sequence can be set up here.

 

 

Tool: Outside the Extreme Tweaker section, this section is one of the most useful areas of ASUS' UEFI CrashFree BIOS. The ASUS EZ Flash utility is a simple-to-use option for flashing the BIOS on ASUS motherboards that has yet to fail on me after years of use. The ASUS OC Profile lets you save and/or load profiles from the BIOS save files or from a USB Flash drive. Coupled with the Last Modified tool, you can make sure you save those important changes. ASUS SPD Information allows the user to get a look at the SPD profile programmed to the DIMMs, if they are not savvy using utilities in the OS. As long as you can get in the BIOS, you can see this information.

 

 

 

The Ai Tweaker section of the BIOS is where you will spend a good majority of your time, if you are used to overclocking manually. This section provides all the CPU and DRAM specific settings to get the most from your hardware. Up front, ASUS has said the "auto" rules for the vast majority of settings are tuned well enough that no manipulation or adjustments are needed for most of the settings. In fact, I used only the CPU Vcore, CPU Ring voltage, DRAM Voltage, DRAM Frequency, CPU and Cache ratio, and the basic timings to reach a 4.7GHz overclock on the CPU I have. However, you have access to pretty much every option as far as voltages, Load-Line Calibration, current limits, and overrides.

The top of this section shows the current state of the hardware. AI Overclock tuner can be set to Auto, Manual, or three preset speeds that mirror the vast majority of CPU capabilities on the market. DRAM Timing Control allows the end user to tune the timings of the installed modules for improved frequency margins, or outright performance. GPU DIMM Post shows the installed DRAM modules' current frequency, as well as the installed discrete GPU type and PCIe Lane allocation. Digi+ Power control is used to set and apply a value for LLC along with the current limits, phase controls, VRM Switching frequency, and more. Again, the auto rules are pretty good. Tweakers' Paradise lets you get a little more granular as far as power settings go. Toward the bottom of the page, we finally get to the voltages that can be tweaked.

 

 

 

 

 

ASUS' UEFI CrashFree BIOS is pretty much the gold standard by which all others are measured when it comes to usability right out-of-the-box. I had no issues navigating through the BIOS with several different mice; the mouse clicks and selections work every time. ASUS' ongoing support is one thing many of you are aware of, but if not, the long term BIOS support is there for both ASUS mainstream product stacks and especially the ROG series. If, by chance, you corrupt the BIOS when running the flash utility, the end user can recover the BIOS in about two minutes using ASUS' USB BIOS Flashback procedure, easily squashing the fear of a permanently hosed up board due to a bad BIOS flash.




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