ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Review

RHKCommander959 - 2013-10-03 18:39:58 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: December 15, 2013
Price: $369.99

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Introduction:

Motherboards come in various sizes and shapes, along with feature sets ranging from low to high. The better the feature set equates to a higher price. The same trend follows for quality — the better a board is the more it will cost, generally. ECS is fairly popular with budget builds, but has been pushing into the enthusiast sector more and more. The name might be a mystery to some as it uses slang in the name. L337 is defined by ECS as "L337 (leet): The term leet is used as an adjective to describe formidable prowess or accomplishment, especially in the fields of online gaming." The new GANK series is for enthusiasts and gamers. GANK is a slang word that is sometimes used in gaming where it means to gang up on, or have a substantial advantage over an opponent. In this case the latter definition makes more sense. So in layman's term this series is supposed to perform over and above the competition, with many features targeted at gamers.

The ECS L337 GANK Domination Golden Z87H3-A3X is the latest in the line of performance motherboards from ECS. ECS categorizes its performance line of motherboards with three denominations — at the top is Domination, Machine in the middle, and Drone in the lower division. Intel has two categories listed; GANK is the currently available group while Killsteal is yet to be released. Aggro is the name given to the AMD group.

With this motherboard it looks like ECS is trying to push into the high-end enthusiast sector while targeting gamers. The naming scheme is odd and the full denomination is quite long — read the review to find out if the gold color and gaming lingo-naming scheme is a gimmick, or if the board really is as good as we are lead to believe.

 

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Closer Look:

The packaging reflects the Golden variety of this motherboard. The box is primarily yellow and black, as is the motherboard itself. The box has very little mention of the ECS brand; instead you will find the L337 Gaming brand being presented much bolder as if to distance this line from the main ECS products. The front of the box has the full name listed: GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden. Personally I think L337 Domination sounds better than L337 GANK Domination. Along the bottom are brands that are supported inside, including features such as the dual Killer E2200 Gigabit LAN ports, Virtu MVP, and Creative Sound Core 3D onboard audio.

Flipping the box around to the back reveals over a dozen pictures of different features on the motherboard. The key specifications at the top state that it has 6.0 Gbps SATA ports, Generation 3 PCI-Express ports, 64GB maximum of DDR3 up to 3000+ MHz OC, USB 3.0, Dual Gigabit Ethernet LAN plus WiFi 802.11b/g/n, and 10G Thunderbolt. The first three pictures show the Southbridge, power heat sinks, and CPU socket. The CPU socket pins are plated 15µ of gold. Gold is also apparently plated throughout the board elsewhere. The gaming technologies include thermo-chromatic display on the Southbridge heat sink — it's two strips of paint, essentially, that turn from brownish to yellow at 40 °C and then yellow with red at 50 °C. The largest heat sink labeled QoolTech V and has a small fan built into it to help keep temperatures lower. The motherboard supports 3-way CrossFireX or 2-way SLI, and also utilizes Virtu MVP for using onboard graphics with a discrete video card. Creative Sound Core 3D is built into the board with specialized audio caps and EMI interference blocking. Thunderbolt is provided with two ports and thus allowing connectivity of up to 12 devices, plus three digital displays at 10Gbps bi-directional and dual channel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The top of the box has a typo — "GANK DMINATION". The width of GANK and DMINATION is even, so some time was obviously spent here. The barcode sticker is here along with a handle for carrying the box, but the handle is also to pull the inside case out from the outer sleeve. Minimal damage occurred during shipping, but the contents were safe thanks to the amount of layers ECS chose to use. The bottom of the box cautions users that the motherboard is static-sensitive. Next to that it is explained that ECS is using environmentally-friendly inks and recycled materials for the packaging. The bottom row explains what the different ECS software programs do, and that the BIOS is multi-lingual.

 

 

The sides are similar to the rest of the packaging, this time with larger ECS brand logos. The whole box is covered in either gold pigment or holographic rainbow foiling, so at an angle you see different colors; definitely eye-catching. The second side is actually a flap that has Velcro holding it shut. Opening the flap reveals over a dozen more images and on the other side a large image of the motherboard itself. The first side lists features that are supported by the board including: EZ Button Control Center — EZ LED Display (for showing Post Codes), EZ Duo BIOS, EZ Click OC, EZ Enter BIOS, EZ Measure (Voltage Measurement Points), EZ Clear CMOS, and EZ Reset/Power. ESD Protection/Anti-Static helps to avoid damage to the motherboard from sudden high voltage spikes that could be caused by LAN, USB, or Video Input. SBX Pro Studio Cinema aims to give cinema quality sound through features such as SBX Surround, Crystallizer, Bass, Dialog Plus, and Smart Volume.

All of the CPU, Memory, and PCI-Express x16 slot pins are gold plated with 15µ of gold for better stability and connectivity — whereas other boards typically only use 5µ. The ECS Extreme Power Module Design gives a 90% power efficiency increase with Dual-Sided Cooling MOSFETs, Ice Crystal Chokes that provide 1.5x greater stability and 13% heat reduction, and Golden Solid Capacitors, which offer up to 6x longer lifespan than standard electrolytic capacitors — up to 200,000 hours. Intel Xtreme Tuning Utility (Intel XTU) is a supported program from Intel for monitoring and tuning performance settings.

The second side shows the motherboard and highlights two dozen features. For front panel USB there are three USB 3.0 headers and two USB 2.0 headers — one of which is gray to indicate it is the EZ Charger header. The rear I/O panel has an additional four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports. Two Thunderbolt connectors exist on the board; one exiting the I/O panel while the other sits nearby, but for internal use. A built-in WiFi 802.11b/g/n card with antenna jack sits above the two USB 2.0 ports and external SATA 6.0 Gbps port. The board also has an mSATA 6.0 Gbps mounting location. Dual RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports are provided by the Bigfoot Killer E2201 from Qualcomm and are capable of teaming for increased throughput.

 

 

 

By pulling the inner-cardboard out we are greeted by a glimpse of the motherboard and its golden highlights through the metalized anti-static bag. Inside of the main cardboard box are two more smaller boxes — one holds the motherboard and the other holds the accessories. Accessories are comprised of: six SATA 6.0 Gbps cables, gold I/O plate, WiFi antenna and base with cable, SLI cable, and port covers to keep dust out of any unused I/O ports. Two manuals and a driver DVD are included to help get the hardware installed properly.

 

 

 

Aside from a couple typos in the manual, everything looks promising so far. Continue onto the next page to take a close look at the ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden!

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Closer Look:

The ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden is an all black PCB layout with many gold plated or yellow anodized components throughout. This board has more bells and whistles than the Killsteal or Drone variants — including built-in wireless connectivity and seven-segment debug led to see what the motherboard is up to. Other features include improved audio through the Sound Blaster chipset built into the board. Four PCI-Express x16 slots are provided, but the bottom-most slot is only x4. One PCI-Express x1 slot and one regular PCI slot are also provided. Near the PCI slot is the EZ Duo BIOS button for restoring BIOS A from corruption with a copy from BIOS B.

At the bottom of the picture, starting at the left and moving to the right, are the EZ BIOS Set and Quick OC buttons, 80P Switch, Post Code Error LED and buzzer, EZ Power and Reset buttons, and EZ Measure voltage measurement points. The QoolTech label sits on top of a custom heat sink design with a built-in fan; the fan is hidden except for the cable that plugs into the nearby fan header added specifically for it. A flattened heat pipe runs down to the low profile chipset heat sink. The chipset heat sink has the words "L337 Gaming" on it, and a strip of grayish-brown paint that changes color with heat like a mood ring (thermo-chromatic). At 40 °C the straight end turns yellow and at 50 °C the curved area turns red. The top heat sink is a different style altogether and uses thick, slightly curved fins that get progressively taller over the length.

Four black DDR3 memory slots allow for up to 64GB of dual channel memory. The surrounding CPU socket area is fairly open and should easily clear large water blocks or more extreme cooling options. The memory slots are close enough that a large tower-style heat sink may interfere with taller memory, so caution should be exercised in part selection. Flipping the board over shows the standard array of components and solder joints one would normally see. Flux residue is common across the board; you can even see signs of where the component machine made contact with the PCB left in the residue. Even the screws and back plate are gold colored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking straight at the rear I/O panel gives us a good view of things here. At the top left is the built-in wireless module with antenna jack. Under that are two USB 2.0 ports and one eSATA 6.0 Gbps port. Next is the CLR CMOS button that glows red when powered. After that are DisplayPort and HDMI video outputs. Two RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports using Bigfoot Killer E2201 sit side by side on top of two pairs of USB 3.0 ports. Two Thunderbolt ports sit near each other, one facing outward for external use and one inward for internal usage. Last is the audio module, which has five 3.5mm female audio jacks and one S/PDIF TOSLINK connector.

Looking at the bottom half of the motherboard gives a good view of the PCI-Express x16 slots that are evenly spaced out. In the middle is a PCI-Express x1 slot, and at the bottom is a legacy PCI slot. At the left of the motherboard you can see the Sound Core 3D audio chipset. Along the bottom of the motherboard are several headers: Front Panel Audio, Communication, two USB 2.0 with the gray one being capable of EZ Charger, three USB 3.0 headers, and the front panel header. Above the headers, under the chipset heat sink, is the mSATA Mini PCIe slot; you can use small SSDs or other devices here.

 

 

 

The Post Code Debug LED can be used to view CPU temperature, voltage, wattage, or CPU MOSFET temperature by pushing the 80P button. There is also a buzzer nearby for errors. A fan header is hidden between the memory slot and EZ Power button. The 24-pin ATX power connector sits between the EZ Buttons and EZ Measure points. The EZ Measure voltage measurement point has the following layout: CPU VCORE, VDIMM, PCH 1.05V, PCH 1.5V, and ground. Using a volt meter you can apply the pins here to read what the voltages are at. You can see the heat pipe extending from the chipset heat sink, running past the two fan headers near the CPU socket. One of these two fan headers is occupied by a small fan installed on the power-circuitry heat sink. The fourth fan header is at the top-center of the motherboard, next to the mounting hole. There is plenty of room for insulation for extreme sub-ambient overclocking around the CPU socket. Four memory slots support up to 64GB of DDR3 at speeds up to 3000+ MHz (OC). It is recommended to use slot 2 and 4 when using two memory sticks.

 

 

The CPU socket area has few nearby components, so extreme overclockers will have no problem insulating the motherboard for sub-ambient cooling such as phase-change or liquid nitrogen. A protective cap is installed on the socket to protect the motherboard pins; it is best to leave this here until right before installing the CPU. The QoolTech V heat sink houses a very small fan in to help keep the temperatures lower. The fan is plugged into the nearby header so it is almost unseen unless you look at it from an extreme angle!

 

 

The 8-pin auxiliary power connector sits at the corner of the board and the top two heat sinks, near the I/O panel. Not far away you can find the Thunderbolt ports; these offer twice the bandwidth of USB 3.0 and can be used with multiple devices simultaneously — up to 12 devices and three digital displays at 10Gbps bi-directional and dual channel.

 

 

The ECS Z87H3-AX Golden has a built-in wireless card that can operate at 802.11a/b/g/n rates. The antenna can be directly mounted to the motherboard, but for better signal strength an extension cable and base are provided. The metal and electronics of the case and components within can make for interference and disruption — the extension cable is approximately two feet or 61 centimeters in length. When installed in either the base or the motherboard directly the antenna can be rotated.

 

 

The hardware looks and sounds promising so far, so now it is time to get the board installed. Now that we have taken a look at the ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden, will it be worth its weight in gold or will it be a dud?

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Closer Look:

Bundled software tailored for motherboards is not a new concept. Traditionally this kind of software has been hit or miss from most manufacturers. When or if it works it can be a powerful tool, but all too often this kind of software has bugs or limited features. If the program works perfectly users will have a better experience; on the contrary if it has problems then users will remember that in a negative manner. With this logic it would seem smarter to leave the software out unless it does work flawlessly. Nonetheless many manufacturers now provide software; some have the system down while others are still working out the problems.

ECS has provided four programs to adjust different aspects of the system. ECS calls these programs the ECS Intelligent EZ Utility: eBLU BIOS Live Update Utility for updating the BIOS from within an OS, eDLU Driver Live Update Utility for finding the latest drivers provided by the ECS website, eOC Easy Over Clock Utility for overclocking within the OS, and Easy Speed Fan Utility for controlling how the fans operate according to the heat levels.

Everything software-related starts with inserting the DVD and having AutoRun start the default setup program. Generally I recommend getting the latest files from the website, but it is good to see what comes on the DVD with the package. The program that pops up after the AutoRun initialization is the Mainboard Setup Utility. Three tabs at the top can be clicked for choosing to install Drivers or Utilities, or get information on the driver type and path. Along the bottom are four orange buttons for Setup, Utilities, Browse DVD for browsing the disc contents, and Exit for ending the program. Clicking Utilities brings up a different menu of programs with their associated icons.

To install a program you click the icon and an installation program pops up. Along the bottom are arrows and page numbers for navigating through the software choices. The programs and trials featured are: Adobe Acrobat Reader, MUZEE Worldwide Internet Entertainment, Norton Internet Security, CyberLink Power2Go 7, CyberLink PowerDirector 9 Downloader, CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Downloader, eBLU, eDLU, eOC, eSF, and EZ Charger. Clicking Information brings up a page that lists the driver types, driver paths, and the comment section that sometimes contains the supported OS information. Clicking Setup on the first page expedites the process by offering to install everything. The total space needed is a little shy of 700MB; small enough it could probably be made to fit onto a CD. Most people now have DVD drives anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ECS Intelligent EZ Utilities include programs for BIOS updates, driver updates, overclocking, and fan speed settings. First up is the eBLU BIOS Live Update Utility. This program is very simple, as there are only three buttons to press. Click Check Update and it will find out what the latest Online Version is, its size, and compare it to yours. This motherboard came with a pre-release BIOS, with the 2013/07/18 version being the first official release. Clicking Install will do just that, while clicking About will tell you the ECS website address and company information. The eDLU Driver Live Update Utility is similar to the eBLU utility. Clicking start will have it load the ECS website on your main browser with the latest drivers for the ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden.

 

 

The eOC Easy Over Clock Utility starts off showing the CPU and System temperature. The DTS abbreviation next to the temperature is to signify the temperature is measured by the Intel Digital Thermal Sensor. Along the top of the program are four buttons — the program starts on the first page so the button is highlighted. Clicking Easy Tuning brings about a page where one can change the CPU Frequency (also known as Base Clock or BCLK). Below this the DIMM memory, SB (Southbridge), and PCH Platform Controller Hub voltages are listed. The only options here are to adjust the CPU Frequency using the slider, save this setting or load another setting, undo a change by clicking Previous Setting, and last clicking on Apply to make the changes.

Clicking Advance Tuning unlocks the voltages for the DIMM, SB, and PCH voltages. Clicking Options reveals the software version, gives several options to choose from, and also has a star that can be clicked on to see if a newer version is available. The available options include: executing the eOC program on boot, loading a prior-saved setting when eOC is loaded, applying the setting when eOC is loaded, applying the setting after resuming from sleep mode, and the amount of seconds to automatically apply the settings. This program is very rudimentary, but this time it is not a good thing. The program should at a minimum have CPU multiplier and CPU Voltage options. With this architecture CPU Frequency overclocking will have minimal results, most topping out around 105MHz. Real Haswell overclocking is done through unlocked K CPUs through their CPU multiplier. I've seen other manufacturers that provide more features, some even mimicking the BIOS. These settings here are more reminiscent of the Northbridge overclocking days where these settings would have been more useful.

 

 

 

The eSF Smart Fan Utility has five different fan speed profiles to choose from. Full speed does just that while the others ramp up speed as temperatures rise. The chart has blue and green arrows; blue for the increasing speed/heat relation and green for decreasing speed/heat (removing a load such as closing a game). The custom profile is simple to use: three orbs allow users to adjust minimum fan speed at a given temperature, maximum fan speed at a given temperature, and the speed/temperature curve for when the system is cooling down.

 

 

With the software-side done it is time to check out the BIOS for the ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden!

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Closer Look:

The ECS Z87H3-AX Golden uses UEFI BIOS over dual ROM chips for failsafe recovery capabilities. The BIOS version used is American Megatrends Inc (AMI). The AMI BIOS is installed on two 64MB SPI Flash ROM chips and supports Plug and Play, Dual Displays, Dual BIOS, Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) 3.0, Direct Media Interface (DMI) 2.0, and ECS EZ BIOS.

The UEFI BIOS is much more advanced these days, akin to a basic operating system. Some have web capability and most can take screenshots and save them to thumb drives. Being ready for Plug and Play means that the system will automatically discover and configure any devices being plugged in such as thumb drives, or a mouse and keyboard. This BIOS is entirely navigable by mouse and the thumb drive can be used for BIOS updating. Screenshots are not yet supported by this motherboard, but I imagine it is a feature that is going to be added to future BIOS revisions.

Entering the BIOS begins with the EZ Mode. This page has various temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds. A few minor settings are also adjustable, including boot order and performance level. At the left of the main screen is generalized performance options that include: Normal, Performance, Power, and Quiet. Boot priority is indicated by icons representing devices; these icons can be moved left to increase or right to decrease boot order. Nearby along the bottom is an Exit button to get out of the BIOS. At the top are language options for those not comfortable with the default English BIOS. Next to that is the Default button to restore BIOS default settings. At the top right is the Advanced button; clicking this will open the real BIOS for anyone who wants to do more intense adjustments. The background is still colorful, but everything else looks like a classic BIOS layout. Seven tabs separate the different options, and a help menu at the right aids in navigation. The first tab is Main where language, date, and time can be adjusted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second tab is the Advanced tab. This area has a lot of different settings available — LAN, PC Health Status, Power Management, PCI Express Configuration, ACPI, CPU, SATA, USB, Super IO, and Intel Rapid Start, Smart Connect, and Thunderbolt settings. The third tab is dedicated to Chipset settings. These tabs together are more for a custom fit setup rather than overclocking performance, as that is where the next tab comes in.

 

 

The Motherboard Intelligent BIOS X (M.I.B. X) tab is all encompassing when it comes to the overclocking-capable settings. The main area has one setting that can be adjusted: Spread Spectrum, enabled by default. Spread Spectrum reduces EMI created by the motherboard at the potential cost of stability. CPU, memory frequency, and memory capacity are also displayed. This tab is separated into five main areas — CPU settings, North Bridge, Memory, Voltages, and Profiles. The CPU settings include the CPU Multiplier Ratio, Intel SpeedStep settings, enabling or disabling Turbo Mode, changing the Turbo Mode Multiplier Ratios, and adjusting the BCLK Frequency.

 

 

The North Bridge page is literally empty so next is the Voltages page. The top has memory DIMM, PCH, SB, and CPU Input voltage options. Vdroop can also be adjusted here. The current voltages are also displayed. After this are several groupings of voltage: memory expanded, CPU Adaptive/Override voltage, RING/Cache Ratio multiplier and Adaptive/Override voltage, SVID, FIVR, Uncore, and IOA settings. Manually setting the primary voltages except Processor Input Voltage (instead using CPU Adaptive Voltage Target) made overclocking stable. Not doing so would cause crashing or hard freezes. The memory settings page lists the memory information and any XMP profiles. Frequency can be chosen from a list and the dozens of settings can be set manually or left on automatic, which assigns them their default settings displayed next to them. Current settings are also displayed for verification. The ECS Z87H3-AX Golden was able to successfully load the 2400MHz XMP profile of the Patriot memory kit.

 

 

The Profile Configuration tab allows users to save or load custom settings; this allows users to experiment with custom settings without having to give up prior settings. The Boot Configuration tab holds all of the general boot up options. Common settings include: Fast Boot, NumLock State, Quiet Boot, Boot Mode, Boot Priority, and properties of possible boot drives.

 

 

The Security tab has options for Administrator and User passwords, and enabling secure boot settings. The Administrator account is able to view and change settings whereas User is only able to view them. The last tab is Exit. Settings include returning to EZ Mode, Saving or Discarding Changes and Exiting or Restarting, Saving Options or Changes, Discarding the Changes, Restoring Defaults, and performing a Boot Override to continue booting onto a specific drive from the list below this option.

 

 

With the BIOS out of the way we can get on to the testing!

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Specifications:

CPU
Supports new 4rd gen Intel® Core™ family, Pentium, Celeron series processors in LGA1150 socket
DMI 5.0GT/s
12 Phase Thermal Design Power
VRD 12.5
100% Solid capacitor design
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology
Supports Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology
Intel® K Series Unlock CPU Support
Please refer to CPU support list for details
Chipset
Intel® Z87 Express Chipset
Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology & Intel® Rapid Start Technology
Graphics
Support Intel® HD Graphics 4000(Intel 4th gen CPU)
Supports DirectX® 11 .1
*DirectX 11.1 - Only supported with the 4rd Gen Intel processors for LGA 1150 socket
Supports Intel® HD Graphics, InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Supports HDMI 1.4a & Premium Audio
Supports LucidLogiX® Virtu™ MVP
Supports NVIDIA® 2-Way SLI
Supports ATI® 3-Way CrossFireX™
Supports Full HD 1080P Blu-ray / HD-DVD Playback
Memory
Dual-channel DDR3 Memory architecture
Supports DDR3 1600/1333/1066 non-ECC, Un-buffered SDRAM Memory
Supports up to 3000(OC)
4 X 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket
Support up to 32 GB*
Intel® extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 1.3/1.2 Memory Modules
Note:Please refer to the latest Memory support list for details
Note: DDR3_1 with DDR3_3 are the same channel, DDR3_2 with DDR3_4 are the same channel by Intel® Specification
Expansion Slots
3 X PCI Express X16 Gen 3.0 slot(s)
1 X PCI Express X16 Gen 2.0 slot(s)
1 X PCI Express X 1 Gen 2.0 slot(s)
Supports NVIDIA® SLI Technology
Supports ATI® CrossfireX Technology
1 X Mini PCI Express X1 slot(s)( Mini SATA supported)
1 X PCI slot(s)
*When using two VGA cards, the bandwidth is @8 badnwidth; when using one VGA card, the bandwodth is @16.
*PCI Express X16 run@ 4 (the 4th)
Storage
Support by Intel® Z87 Express Chipset
    • 6 X Serial ATAIII 6Gb/s
      Located in SATA3_1/2, SATA3_3/4, SATA3_5/6 Port
Support by ASM1061 Controler
    • 1 X eSATAIII 6Gb/s
    • RAID0, RAID1,RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
Supports Intel® Rapid Storage Technology
Supports NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions
Audio 6-Channel HD audio CODEC
Compliant with HD audio specification
Creative Sound Core 3D 6-channel High Definition audio CODEC
BluRay DVD/HD DVD support
LAN
Dual BigFoot Killer E2201 Gigabit Fast Ethernet Controller
Wake-On-LAN
Dual LAN with Teaming function
Ultra low power consumption
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n wireless LAN
USB
Support by Z87 Express Chipset
    • 10 X USB3.0 port(s) up to 5Gb/s
      Back Panel 4 port(s)
      Onboard 6 port(s)
    • 6 X USB2.0 port(s) Up to 480 Mb/s
      Back Panel 2 port(s)
      Onboard 4 port(s)
ECS EZ Charger (Gray USB header)
Rear Panel I/O
1 X Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, SPDIF out)
2 X RJ-45 port with teaming function
1 X HDMI port(s)
1 X Mini Display port
1 X Display port
1 X Thunderbolt(s)
1 X Wireless LAN Dongle
1 X eSATA 6Gb/s port(s)
4 X USB3.0 port(s)
2 X USB2.0 port(s)
1 X Clear_CMOS Button
Connectors & Headers
1 X 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
1 X 8-pin ATX 12V Power Connector
1 X 4-pin CPU_FAN connector
1 X 4-pin SYS_FAN connector
1 X 3-pin NB_FAN connector
1 X 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
1 X Power on button
1 X Reset button
1 X Clear_CMOS button
1 X Front Panel switch/LED header
1 X Front panel audio header
1 X Onboard Buzzer
3 X USB 3.0 header
    • Support additional 6 USB ports
2 X USB 2.0 header
    • Support additional 4 USB ports
Support EZ charger (gray color)
6 X SATA III 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 X Serial port header (COM)
1 X mSATA connector
1 X 7S-LED Display
1 X ME_UNLOCK header
1 X Chassis intrusion header
1 X Voltage measure points
1 X 80P Switch button
1 X Quick OC button
1 X BIOS set button
1 X ROM Backup button
System BIOS
AMI BIOS with 64x2 MB SPI Flash ROM
Supports M.I.B X Utility
Supports ACPI 3.0 & DMI
F7 hot key for boot up devices option
Over-Clocking
Graphic OC Support
Dual Display
Support ECS EZ BIOS
Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor, Multi Boot
Multi-Language BIOS
Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
Dual BIOS
Dual-Monitor function
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor
305mm(W) X 244mm(H)
OS Support
Windows 7 32-bit
Windows 7 64-bit
Windows 8 32-bit
Windows 8 64-bit
Certifications
CE/FCC Certification
ErP/EuP Certification
WHCK Certification
Bundled Software
ECS Intelligent EZ Utility : eBLU, eDLU, eOC, eSF
Free Bundle: Norton Internet Security ,CyberLink PowerDVD, CyberLink PowerDirector 9, Muzee with trial version
Creative Sound Blaster Cinema software

 

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Features:



 

All information courtesy of ECS @ http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1453&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=181&LanID=0

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Testing:

Testing the ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden motherboard will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and NVIDIA 330.58 drivers for the NVIDIA GTX 770. In the past we had locked the clock speed on the processor to eliminate any easily controlled variables due to processor speed. However there is a difference in how each manufacturer handles the CPU default and boost speeds creating opportunity for one board to deliver a higher level of performance. This variable is a point of difference between boards. The majority of users will run the stock settings making this point a valid concern so we are changing up the test methods to capture this difference.

Testing Setup: Socket 1150

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

 

Overclocking the ECS Z87H3-AX Golden was initially difficult. The board did not like to save settings and hated cold booting. It came with a pre-release BIOS from June so I opted for the July first release edition. Using the Easy BIOS Live Update Utility worked fine to do the update. The problems persisted with the newer BIOS; on a cold boot it would freeze until clearing CMOS. Burning the BIOS with the American Megatrends' Flash Utility in Windows didn't help either. Hopefully ECS releases a new BIOS soon as it appears the problem lies with the Dual BIOS layout. For overclocking to be successful I had to manually set every single voltage to where I wanted. It seemed like the board was under-volting some too. XMP profile settings loaded perfectly on the new BIOS; the older one was hit and miss with enacting these settings. After playing with the settings for a while it was simple overclocking the ECS Z87H3-AX Golden. After manually setting everything the board was stable during testing.

The included Easy Over Clock Utility was pretty much useless for doing any overclocking. I had hoped for much more, but luckily the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility works with this motherboard. At a minimum this program should have added CPU Multiplier options. The only options were chipset and memory voltage, and CPU Frequency, which is pretty useless on Haswell. This program seems like it was carried over from FSB/BCLK overclocking days. As with the other boards, heat was the limiting factor on overclocking. This CPU isn't a good bin and has not been delidded yet; any higher and heat was an issue, but the board was willing — after fighting to figure out which settings effectively worked for it in BIOS.

 

 

Maximum Core Clock Speed:

Each CPU has been tested for stability at the listed overclocked speeds. These clock speeds will represent the level of performance shown by the over-clocked scores in the testing.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. SiSoft Sandra 2013
  3. Cinebench 11.5
  4. X.264 5.1
  5. AIDA 64 3.00
  6. Crystal Disk Mark
  7. iPerf
  8. Rightmark Audio Analyzer
  1. 3DMark
  2. Metro: Last Light
  3. DiRT 3

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

  

 

SiSoft Sandra 2013 is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

Overall Score

  

 

The results were pretty close throughout the testing. The only trend was that the ECS GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden was coming in last almost always in both PCMark 7 and SiSoft Sandra 2013. All three motherboards were clocked the same, so something else is holding the ECS behind.

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Testing:

Cinebench 11.5 is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program, CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition 3.0 is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the Cache and Memory benchmark tool to measure memory performance.

 

  

  

  

  

 

The ECS Z87H3-AX Golden did well with Cinebench 11.5, coming in first. With X.264 it comes in behind the pack, but results are close. AIDA64 3.0 testing reveals some shocking results for the ECS board. Read and Copy speeds are both much lower than the other boards. The results are very similar to those from the ECS Z87H3-A2X Extreme that was tested earlier in the year.

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Testing:

Crystal Disk Mark 3.0: Crystal Disk Mark is a hard drive benchmark designed to measure the read and write speeds of drives by using 4k blocks, 512k blocks, and sequential data. For the test, we chose the 1000MB option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing with Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 shows the ECS Z87H3-AX Golden either performing average or slightly worse than the other two featured boards. The sixth SATA port performed lower than ports one through five — documentation didn't indicate this, but port six is provided by the ASM1061 controller (it can provide two ports). During boot-up the controller screen with SSD model was shown when the plug was used. Speeds were closer to SATA II speeds although the ASM controller is SATA III. The controller is connected by an x1 PCI Express 2.0 lane, which should provide roughly 500MB/s. Testing the controller showed speeds roughly two-thirds of the speed provided by the Intel ports.

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Testing:

LAN performance will be tested via a pair of utilities to gauge the performance of the on board network solutions. The motherboard being tested will be connected via a Gigabit switch to another system with an integrated Gigabit network solution on board.

iPerf: is a small lightweight utility run from the command prompt and can be used to "measure both TCP and UDP performance on a network. IPerf is cross platform software and open source." The test is configured to run for 20 seconds with a window size of 256 KB and four simultaneous streams that should be able to saturate the TCP link on a good NIC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.25 is used to test the sound solution on board each motherboard. Nothing beats a good set of ears and headphones but this is a graphic representation of the capabilities of the installed hardware. Sampling mode is 24bit 44kHz.

 
Gigabyte Z87X-UD4H
MSI Z87-GD65
ECS Z87XH3-AX Golden
Frequency Response dB
+0.32, +0.12
+0.14, -0.11
+0.24, -0.72
Noise Level dBA
-77.8 -45.7 -76.3
Dynamic Range dBA
77.8
85.0
76.4
Total Harmonic distortion %
.131
0.131
0.055
Intermodulation distortion +noise
.258
3.402
0.158
Stereo Crosstalk,db
-77.5
-85.8 -77.7
Intermodulation distortion + noise (Swept Freq) %
.326
0.298
0.345
Frequency Response (Swept Sine), db
+0.1, -0.1
+0.5, -0.4 +0.1, -0.2

 

LAN performance was pretty much identical across the board. Gigabit connections are just that and all of these results are basically saturating that connection. The ECS Z87XH3-AX Golden uses dual BigFoot Killer E2201 LAN ports, but the second system uses Intel Gigabit; this test only confirms that the BigFoot controller is at least on par with Intel. The ECS did very well with audio distortion and response.

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Testing:

3DMark: The just released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base the ability to make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs to notebooks and Extreme Gaming PCs.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the followup to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

Results are pretty even across the board for all three gaming benchmarks. The bigger differences we saw in synthetic testing hardly translates in the gaming section. The trend of ECS coming in last is continued here — although it does get second a few times. The ECS Z87H3-AX Golden even manages to earn first on Metro: Last Light Overclocked. These results reinforce the idea that gamers don't have to really worry about motherboard choice, performance-wise.

ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden Conclusion:

The ECS L337 GANK Domination Z87H3-AX Golden is a fancy high end attempt by ECS. Almost everything is gold or silver in color. From a hardware standpoint everything looks great: built-in 802.11a/b/g/n wireless LAN, dual BigFoot Killer E2201 Gigabit LAN ports, ten USB 3.0 ports, Dual Intel Thunderbolt ports, one mSATA port, one eSATA port, Creative Sound Core 3D 5.1-channel audio CODEC, Dual BIOS with UEFI, 12 Phase Power Design, Triple Density PCB, high quality solid capacitors, Ice Crystal Chokes, dual-cooling MOSFETs, EZ Button control center, and dual SLI or triple CrossFireX capability. Software works well too: Easy BIOS Live Update Utility (eBLU) worked perfectly in updating the BIOS, Easy Driver Live Update Utility (eDLU) connected to the ECS website and displayed the latest drivers for this board, Easy Smart Fan Utility (eSF) adjusted fan speeds successfully, and while Easy Over Clock Utility (eOC) worked it left much to be desired — Intel Extreme Tuning (XTU) filled its place just fine. If you like gold/yellow with silver accents on a black PCB, this is the package to fill that need. Most other manufacturers have opted to go with red, blue, or all black, but there have been other options. It definitely sticks out.

Now for the bad: the last BIOS released was July 18th 2013. The board was shipped with a pre-release BIOS from mid-June. This is supposed to be a very high-end motherboard, but it hasn't had an update from the initial release BIOS, nearly half a year ago. This would be fine if it worked properly, but in testing it did not. Turning it off and then on again would cause it to lock up every single time, requiring clearing the CMOS to get it to boot. Every single time it would freeze at Post Code 3b, listed on the web as "reserved", but likely around CPU initialization. Then you'd have to go into BIOS and load a profile (after making one), save to get the settings back, and boot back into Windows. Without manually setting voltages some would be too high or too low — at stock this was no problem whatsoever. The board ran perfectly at stock except on initial power-on. Overclocking was unstable and would cause BSODs or freezing if the voltages weren't set manually. After figuring this out it was rock-solid stable when overclocked.

Three out of four of the cons could be overlooked if this motherboard had a proper BIOS update that fixes it. The market ECS has targeted is very small, so potential bug reports are probably low; ECS may not even know a problem exists. Hopefully the BIOS is the only issue causing the boot failures and not some hardware problem. If the BIOS wasn't buggy and it booted fine, then the price could be more justified since it is a high-end design. Fixing the BIOS would essentially negate three of the cons, and simply updating the eOC software with more options would remove it from the Cons list too.

The hardware looks great, but there are a few problems that need to be sorted out.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: