Motherboard Memory Lane: Intel Z87, MSI Z87-G45 Gaming and Intel Core i7 4770K

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Motherboard Memory Lane: Intel Z87, MSI Z87-G45 Gaming and Intel Core i7 4770K

We continue our Motherboard Memory Lanes series today with a look at the Intel Z87 platform, a launch that coincided with a revised socket design and a brand new Haswell architecture processor lineup. We’ll focus in on the new technologies that the platform included, the motherboards and CPUs that were popular with overclockers at that time on HWBOT and of course, the records scores that were made in this particular era.

Intel Z87: Overview

Officially launched in June 2013, the Intel Z87 platform continued the big cat codenames that were used with previous Cougar Point and Panther Point platforms. The new Lynx Point platform arrived with similar enterprise and budget offerings that included Intel H81, B85, Q85, Q87, H87 and Z87 PCH parts. As with previous Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge designs, integrated graphics, video outputs and memory controllers were all integrated into the CPU itself. As with Ivy Bridge, Haswell CPUs offered support for up to three displays (digital outputs direct from the CPU, VGA from the PCH itself). In terms of memory, the new platform supported dual channel DDR3 at default speeds of up to 1,600MHz and also supported low power DDR3L. Most enthusiast systems were capable of DDR3-2400 and above straight out of the box.

In terms of PCIe connectivity, Lynx Point offered the same lane allocations as the previous generation with 16 lanes of Gen 3.0 available from the processor in 1×16, 2×8 or 1×8+2×4 configurations. One new feature that debuted on the 8-series platform however was Flex IO. Instead of the PCH offering a fixed number of SATA, PCIe and USB options Flex IO offered a total of 18 connectivity options which included four USB 3.0, six PCIe and four SATA 6Gbps as default ports with a further four that could be used as either SATA or PCIe according to the needs of the motherboard designer.

The Z87 PCH was the only chipset that offered full bore CPU overclocking – the still born Z75 concept had been to buried and forgotten by the time the Z87 had arrived. Other H-, B- and Q- PCH offerings in the 8-series range lacked CPU multiplier overclocking capability.

The Shark Bay platform (to use the official CPU + PCH codename) was essentially designed and optimized for mobile computers. One major design decision in favor of mobile computing was that the voltage regulator was moved to the processor itself. The fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) takes a single power input of ~1.8V and splits it into all the required rails for the memory controller, PCIe controller, GPU and all other parts that were traditionally powered from the motherboard. The advantage for mobile computing was lower power draw at idle – but it also meant higher power draw under load, a fact that somewhat hindered extreme overclocking. More on this later.

The Intel Z87 PCH consequently had a lower power draw of 4.1watts TDP compared with 6.7 watts TDP with the previous generation. It was manufactured on the 65nm manufacturing process and had a package size of 23mm x 22mm. The 8-series platform used the 1150 LGA socket and effectively supported Haswell and subsequent Devil’s Canyon series processors.

Most Popular Intel Z87 Motherboards

While recent history has shown us that ASUS was the brand to beat in terms of enthusiast motherboard design, in the Z87 era we find that MSI in fact have the most popular board offering. ASUS still figures heavily in the top ten as you would expect:

  • -MSI Z87-G45 Gaming – 10.80%
  • -ASUS Maximus VI Hero – 6.99%
  • -GIGABYTE Z87X-OC – 6.57%
  • -ASUS Maximus VI Extreme – 6.43%
  • -MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming – 6.34%
  • -ASUS Maximus VI Formula – 4.02%
  • -ASUS Z87-Pro – 3.49%
  • -MSI Z87 MPower Max – 2.87%
  • -ASUS Z87-A – 2.76%
  • -ASRock Z87 OC Formula – 2.73%

This era really was a purple patch for MSI who managed to woo the hearts and minds of overclockers with three motherboards in the top ten. As well boasting the most popular Z87 motherboard, the MSI Z87-G45 Gaming, the brand actually managed to take 20% of the top ten as a whole. A combination of good looking aesthetics (the MSI Gaming Dragon made its motherboard debut), a mature and slick UEFI BIOS, solid performance and competitive pricing meant that the MSI Z87-G45 Gaming was indeed a popular choice.

The ASUS Maximus VI Hero is the second most popular board with 6.99% of all Z87 submissions. Arguably the strength and breadth of the ROG range as a whole is the reason why the company lost out on top spot. ASUS in fact have five of the top ten which combined equal 23.69% of the whole. ASRock and GIGABYTE have one board a piece in the top ten, perhaps pointing to a declining success in the enthusiast space despite GIGABYTE Z87X-OC being marketed specifically at overclockers.

Most Popular Intel Z87 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i7 4770K

Since the arrival of Sandy Bridge and the decision from Intel to retail ‘K’ SKU processors, it’s been fairly easy to predict which model will be most popular with overclockers on HWBOT, i.e. the overclockable ones. With the launch of Haswell we have two ‘K’ models; the Core i5 4670K and the Core i7 4770K. The Core i7 4770K takes the lion’s share with 50.21% of all Z87 platform submissions on HWBOT. In second place we find the Core i5 4670K with 25.99%. A subsequent series refresh brought with it two new models dubbed Devil’s Canyon – the Core i5 4690K and the Core i7 4790K – these combined account for 12.26% of all Z87 submissions.

In general however, Haswell architecture CPUs were not the most popular with overclockers. The new processor design and the change in power delivery meant that overclocking on Haswell processors was somewhat limited compared to the previous Ivy Bridge platform. Here’s what Sebastian Anthony, writing for Extreme Tech had to say in June 2013:

“The fully-integrated voltage regulator and higher power consumption under load mean that Haswell is actually worse than Ivy Bridge at overclocking. As our hardware analyst mentioned in his Haswell review, Intel’s new parts struggle to get past 4.5GHz on air, while Ivy Bridge could reliably hit 4.7GHz, with some parts reaching 4.9GHz.”


MSI Z87-G45 Gaming: Record Scores

We now take a look at the highest scores posted using the most popular Z87 platform motherboard, the MSI Z87-G45 Gaming.

Reference Clock

Reference clock overclocking was not the most important benchmark in the Z87 era, but it remained a reliable way to determine a motherboard’s ability to clock highly. Let’s look at the highest reference clock made with the MSI Z87-G45-Gaming. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT came from Italy’s scalvo98. He managed a reference clock of 180.02 MHz, using an Intel Core i5 4670K processor.

You can find the submission from scalvo98 here on HWBOT:

CPU Frequency

Even though raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers.The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using the MSI Z87-G45-Gaming motherboard came from another Italian with delly pushing an Intel Core i7 4770K to a 5,847.83MHz, an impressive +67.08% beyond stock settings.

You can find the submission from delly here on HWBOT:

SuperPi 32M

Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using an MSI Z87-G45-Gaming motherboard was also submitted by delly who completed a run in just 5min 56sec 963ms using an Intel Core i7 4770K ramped up to 5,400.57MHz (+54.30%).

Check out the submission from delly here:

Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we take a look at the Intel Z97 platform.

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