Overclocking and Conclusion
To give a feel for the Z87H3-A3X motherboard's overclocking performance capabilities, we attempted to push the board to known CPU-supported performance parameters with minimal tweaking. While i was able to get the CPU to a 4.6GHz clock speed, I could not get the board to stabilize at any base clock speed over 100Mhz. For a Z87-based board, a 167MHz base clock should be easily achievable, so this was a bump in the road for an otherwise strong board. The board remained stable for over 4hrs at a 4.6GHz CPU speed, a 1866MHz memory speed, and a 4.0GHz ring bus speed at a 100MHz base clock. System stability was tested running the AIDA64 stability test in conjunction with FurMark running at 1280×1024 resolution and 2x MSAA in stress test mode.
Note that this is is meant only as a quick preview of the board's performance potential. With more time to tweak the settings to a greater extent, pushing to a higher base clock and ring bus speed may have been achievable, in addition to an overnight stability run without issue.
The Z87H3-A3x Drone is truly a diamond in the rough and is one of those unique products that disproves the old adage "You get what you pay for". This board kept pace with the other more costly Z87-based boards without a hitch at stock settings. Even overclocked, the Z87H3-A3X made a great showing, barring the slight base clock-related issues.
Before continuing with our final thoughts on the Z87H3-A3X, we would like to take this opportunity to give our friends at ECS a hearty “Thank You” for allowing us the opportunity to review this board. The Z87H3-A3X is an interesting experiment by ECS where they successfully developed a value-priced motherboard without sacrificing on performance or feature set. Somehow, ECS was even able to package in an Intel Z87 chipset. The Z87H3-A3X motherboard does not have the sleek looks of its big brother, the Z87H3-A2X Extreme, but does have some nice features that differentiate the board besides its price. The board layout is clean and uncluttered with plenty of room to spare around all components. Includes eye-catching heat sinks on both the CPU VRMs and the Intel Z87 chipset, gold colored and optimized for heat passive heat transfer. Additionally, ECS integrated there Durathon power delivery system into the board's design, pairing the board with high quality Ice chokes and gold-plated solid capacitors rated for operational stability up to 200k hours. While ECS had to keep the integrated peripheral count to a minimum to keep board costs down, they chose to integrate an Intel-base GigE NIC into the board, further proving this board's performance potential. From a stock performance perspective, you would not be able to tell the difference between this board and any other Intel Z87-based system.
Where the budget nature of the board begins to become apparent is in the BIOS and overclocking potential of the board. Overclocking-wise, we were able to get our test 4770K CPU to an impress 4.6GHz speed. However, the speed was only achievable with a base clock of 100MHz. Any base clock over 100MHz was unstable, resulting in a non-booting board or windows instability. This is most likely caused by the lack of clear voltage configuration options for the CPU. The CPU voltage mode was selectable as Adaptive or Offset, but the values allowed were not sufficiently documented in the BIOS. Further, Adaptive was found to be the only reliable setting for overclocking without the option of setting a fixed mode value. The other BIOS-related issue that affected CPU overclocking performance was the inability to configure integrated power phase operation. This affected the ability to increase the base clock of the CPU more than the physical CPU speed and could be addressed via a future BIOS release.
- Stock performance
- Overclocking potential without base clock enhancement
- CMOS battery placement
- Board layout and design
- Accessible PCI-Express x1 slot with multiple PCI-Express x16 slots filled
- UEFI BIOS design and usability
- Motherboard manual information on base features
- Intel GigE NICs
- Quality of included power circuitry
- Price to Performance ratio
- Lack of clear-cut CPU voltage settings in BIOS
- Lack of power phase configuration in BIOS
- Limited base clock overclocking ability