Can Asus’s latest microATX motherboard for Haswell SFF system builders live up to its mythical namesake?
We all like mATX motherboards – they allow for relatively small form factor builds while still keeping the essential I/O ports intact, still have all four DIMM slots, two-way multi-GPU capability and space for a comfortable amount of VRM phases to support some degree of air/water overclocking without starting a house fire.
As far as Z87 motherboards for LGA1150 Haswell processors go, the TUF Gryphon is positioned at the upper bound of the price spectrum (US$169 / SGD$358 without the Armor Kit), and there are other decent mATX choices you can go for such as ASRock’s Z87M Extreme4 (US$122) and Gigabyte’s Z87MX-D3H (US$124).
Asus’ play is that they’re using higher tolerence “military/server-grade” components capable of longer lifespan and durability than the norm, hence reducing the likelihood of hardware related failures and RMA nightmares. In the big picture, spending US$50 more for a reliable system build sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Component choices and expansion options wise, there is nothing remarkable or criminally bad to talk about. At the rear I/O panel you get your usual line-up of interfaces, although there are only two IGP display outputs (HDMI and DVI-D), which is a disappointment as there is evidently space for one more port to get full fledged triple display support.
Gigabit Ethernet connectivity is serviced by an Intel I217V PHY and 7.1 channel audio by a bog standard Realtek ALC892 HDA codec. Most system builders will like them because they’re mature components, with a relatively small driver package size and low CPU interrupt footprint to boot.
As the TUF Gryphon is aimed for SFF system builds, the six onboard SATA 6Gb/s ports (connected to Z87 Lynx Point PCH) should suffice. What I’m not too pleased about is the continued absence of a PORT-80 debug LED and onboard Power/Reset buttons, which are lifesavers when troubleshooting a failed boot.
Over at the CPU socket area, there is a ceramic coated heatsink covering the CPU’s 8-phase VRMs. The FETs used here are PowerPAKs from ON Semiconductor driven by an IR 3563A PWM, which are also deployed on some of the other Z87 motherboards from Asus. This configuration is more robust than the typical mATX implementation, hence you can run intensive CPU loads all-day and potentially get a higher core overclock, without worrying about dodgy motherboard setting your house/office on fire.