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First Looks: ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC) Motherboard

By Wong Chung Wee - 4 Jul 2014

First Looks: ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC)

ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC): Everything But the Kitchen Sink

The ASUS Z97-Deluxe full ATX motherboard was first unveiled by the company in a media event held in late April this year. We were introduced to its new system optimization feature called the 5-Way Optimization, as well as its new Turbo App that allows you to tweak system settings on the fly. For a truly feature-rich experience, the company has thrown in a generous bundle of accessories with the board and labelled the final product, the ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC). With its muted gold on black color scheme, its appearance is unlike any board that we have come across recently. Besides its grandiose appearance, the "Deluxe" suffix in its name trumpets its pedigree. Let us take a quick look at its features and its accessories!

The ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC) is a full ATX board that is touted to be a Swiss army knife for system builders; with its rich feature set that will address requirements that range from cloud computing to system overclocking.

The heatsinks near the LGA1150 CPU socket have a brushed aluminum finish and one of them has the label "asusdesign", most likely to designate the board has a labor of love from the ASUS Design Center. Their sharp edges have been drastically reduced and made less menacing in appearance, but beware, the black protrusions from the heatsinks are still rather sharp and could be hard to avoid when mounting or dismounting the CPU cooler.

The three heatsinks in the vicinity of the CPU socket are connected by a heatpipe. However, the third heatsink doesn't indicate the presence of a PLX switching chip; instead, the heatsink is used to extend the area for heat dissipation.

The three heatsinks are connected via a heatpipe for better heat dissipation. The presence of third heatsink (black in color, with the motif "Dual Intelligent Processor V") didn’t indicate that there was a PLX switching chip present, as would be the case for a previous generation 8-series board. Instead, the heatsink is used to extend the area for heat dissipation. Speaking of the motherboard feature of Dual Intelligent Processors (DIP), it has been upgraded to its fifth version; the earlier version, aptly name DIP 4, is featured on the company's previous generation Intel Z77 motherboards.

From this angle, we have a clearer view of the heatpipe that links the heatsink triplet.

According to ASUS, this is due to the addition of a new feature Turbo App that is a software application that allows you to configure "system performance, network priority, and audio settings" of other applications. In order words, it's a central control system for supported applications. Therefore, the addition of Turbo App to the mix has allowed the company to christen the new feature control set as the new 5-Way Optimization. In addition, it also features upgraded Fan Xpert 3 that will primarily allow you more precise control over the system's cooling fans.

One of the most notable features from the previous iterations of the Optimization feature series is Digi+ Power controllers for CPU and DRAM. Also present in this current version of the Optimization feature set, they work together with the VRM components that include NexFET MOSFETs, BlackWing chokes, and 10K black metallic capacitors to drive a 16 + 2 power delivery system, for the CPU and DRAM respectively.

From this angle, we can see the BlackWing chokes tucked under the heatsinks, while the 10K black metallic capacitors line the front of the chokes.

Moving south away from the CPU socket, we see a pair of PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slots that can support up to quad-GPU CrossfireX/SLI configurations. Together with its third x16 slot that offers only PCIe 2.0 lanes at x4 mode, it can support a 3-way CrossFireX setup; however, its x4 operating mode isn’t able to support SLI. There are also four PCIe 2.0 x1 expansion slots to support other add-in cards.

There is a pair of PCIe 3.0 x16 slots that can support up to quad-GPU CrossfireX/SLI configurations. Together with its third x16 slot that offers only PCIe 2.0 lanes at x4 mode, it can support a 3-way CrossFireX setup; however, its x4 operating mode isn’t able to support SLI.

The Z97-Deluxe includes a M.2 socket that supports type 2260/2280 devices that measure 60- and 80mm in length respectively. The devices can operate in SATA or PCIe mode; however, do take note that it shares bandwidth with one of the SATA Express connectors.

The M.2 type 3 socket is featured on the board. It supports only type 2260 and 2280 devices.

At the bottom of the board, we see the usual headers and there are a number of onboard buttons and switches that make the board ready for an open workbench environment.

For a start, we have the Reset and Power buttons. The BIOS Flashback button, next to the red Clear CMOS button, allows you to update the BIOS of the board without having to enter the BIOS or operating system environment; it even works without a processor installed and the last we've tried it out, it works swell. The Thunderbolt header (in black) is to the left of the BIOS button and it is for the add-on Thunderbolt expansion card that we will reveal later.

In spite of its regal status, the Z97-Deluxe is all already to get down and dirty in an open workbench environment with its onboard buttons.

Moving to the right of the board, there are SATA connectors; there are two SATA Express connectors, and a total of six SATA 6Gbps connectors to their right.

One of the SATA Express connector is linked to the Intel Z97 PCH, while the other is linked to the board's third party ASMedia SE controller.

According to the company, the DIMM slots have been laid out in a T-Topology, which is supposedly able to enhance overclocking by "minimizing the coupling noise and signal reflection effect." As usual, the DRAM slots support up to 32GB of system memory.

 Thanks to its special T-topology design, the board claims to be able to support DDR3 memory modules that have been rated up to 3300MHz!

To the left of the PEG slots, we see the Crystal Sound 2 audio feature that "enhances the board layout with audio shielding and dedicated PCB layers for audio", as explained by ASUS.

The Crystal Sound 2 feature has been upgraded to deliver better audio experience.

Next, we take a look at the rear I/O panel of the board. There are a total of six USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ones. Although there are two Intel-based Gigabit LAN ports, the NIC teaming feature isn't supported by the board. In terms of video connectivity options, there is a DisplayPort port, a HDMI port, and a mini-DisplayPort port. The audio ports consist of the usual six audio jacks with an optical S/PDIF port.

The ASUS Wi-Fi GO! wireless module has been pre-installed and it's located in between the stack of USB 2.0 ports and the mini-DisplayPort. 

The ASUS 2T2R dual-band Wi-Fi moving antennas connect to the ASUS Wi-Fi GO! module that supports up to Wireless 802.11ac networking standards. As usual, it also supports Bluetooth v4.0. The company has enhanced the software applications to include its very own ASUS HomeCloud service that essential allows you to build a personal cloud system built on the Z97-Deluxe board. One particularly useful feature is Wi-Fi GO! allows you to remotely access and control the system with your iOS or Android device. It even allows you to do file transfers.

The ASUS 2T2R dual-band Wi-Fi moving antennas package is one of the best designed antennas bundled with motherboards due to its wide stable base. It is also able to fold away flat for storage.

Besides this bundled antenna package, there is the ASUS ThunderboltEX II/Dual expansion card that fits into any one of the four PCIe x16 slots of the board. This card is also sold separately (like this previous edition we've featured) but it's bundled together with this motherboard. The DisplayPort IN ports on the card connect to both DisplayPort ports on the motherboard with the supplied cables. The board's Thunderbolt header is connected to the card too, with a bundled TB header cable. Once installed, the user is able to daisy-chain up to 20 Thunderbolt devices.

Once installed, the ASUS ThunderboltEX II/Dual card will allow you to enjoy the full 20Gbps bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2 technology.

Rounding up the generous bundle of the Z97-Deluxe board is the NFC Express 2 package. It consists of a NFC Express 2 device and a NFC Express 2 wireless charger for Qi-supported devices. The NFC Express 2 also doubles up as a USB 3.0 hub. Both NFC devices allow you to pair your NFC devices to log-in and launch application seamlessly. This bundle can also be purchased separately, but it's provided in the package of the Z97-Deluxe motherboard.

The NFC Express 2 package consists of a NFC Express 2 device (with the blue USB 3.0 port) and a NFC Express 2 wireless charger (in the foreground) for Qi-supported devices. The NFC Express 2 also doubles up as a USB 3.0 hub.

In short, the ASUS Z97-Deluxe board, together with its more than abundant bundle of accessories, is a truly impressive specimen from the Z97 class. At press time, the board is priced at a reasonable price point of S$565, and it's very hard to fault the board for being too expensive due to its pedigree features. When paired wirelessly with an iOS or Android device, the system's connectivity is improved tremendously. From overclockers, power users and even early adopters of technologies like SATA Express, M.2, and Thunderbolt 2, we can safely say that this board has all its bases covered, short of throwing in the kitchen sink.

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