There have been one or two manufacturers that have flirted with mini-ITX overclocking motherboards over the years. Prior to all the current hype, Zotac and occasionally Gigabyte were the ones you could usually count on, although their boards were often lacking in true enthusiast features.
So when Asus launched the P8Z77-I Deluxe with its 10-power phase VRM daughterboard, we imagine that plenty of mini-ITX fans' jaws needed to be scraped up off the floor. Indeed, P8Z77-I Deluxe was the best Z87 mini-ITX motherboard we had tested, with it able to overclock just as well as larger boards. In fact one currently resides in the PC of yours truly as well, which is saying something.
With LGA1150, overclocking isn't something that generates as much excitement. Uncontrollably high temperatures inside the CPU will likely put a stop to your overclocking before your motherboard's prowess finds its limits, although we are seeing that some cheaper motherboards get toasty much more rapidly. Even so, having the ability to push your CPU to 4.5GHz up from a maximum of 3.9GHz, isn't something to be sniffed it.
Well now Asus is back with two new mini-ITX Z87 boards. The big headline grabber at Computex 2013 was the ROG-branded Asus Maximus VI Impact, a review of which is imminent. However, with us today is the second tier model, the Asus Z87i-Pro.
The main differences between the two apart from colour scheme are that the Impact adds an eSATA port and Socket M2 / Combo II expansion slot in place of two of the six SATA ports supported by the Z87 controller. Impact also has ROG SupremeFX audio with eight channels, compared to the Pro's 6-channel Realtek chip. And of course the Impact has a host more overclocking and enthusiast features such as on-board buttons for power and reset, voltage measurement points, LN2 mode, and more. The full specs of the Impact can be found here and the Pro here.
Immediately one thing we've not overly enamoured of with the Z87i-Pro Asus' current colour scheme. The off-gold and yellow connectors make the Z87i-Pro appear cheaper than it otherwise is, and we definitely prefer red and black of the ROG range, or indeed the blue and silver scheme of this board's predecessor. No point crying over spilt milk though so lets take a close look and what's on offer.
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Miracles aside, such as cramming in a 1x PCI-E slot for sound cards and the like, the Z87i-Pro does address a couple of issues that might have bugged you with the P8Z77-I Deluxe. There are now more USB 3.0 ports - six on the rear I/O panel with two being provided by an ASMedia ASM1042 controller, the rest via the Z87 chipset (interestingly the Impact eschews this, relying solely on the Z87's USB support). It has double the amount of fan headers, all of which support 3-pin or 4-pin fans, with one of these offering Asus' new latch mechanism that can control the speed of the fan using its included software, whether it's a 3-pin or 4-pin model.
Two of the six SATA 6Gbps ports, all of which are powered by the Z87 chipset, are located at the edge of the PCB for easier cable routeing, although the other four are mounted awkwardly between the DIMM slots and 16x PCI-E slot. Repositioning the WiFi module from a slot-in card to an integrated device that sits between the rear audio ports and Intel I217V Gigabit LAN port has, however, made a little more room around the CPU socket. Things weren't exactly cramped on this boards predecessor but things have improved slightly here.
Overall the layout is good, with the 24-pin ATX connector and EPS12V connector both located right on the edge of the PCB. The daughterboard also allows the Z87i-Pro to offer extended power design without taking up too much room on the board. There are no additional mid-PCB slots for Combo II cards or mSATA SSDs and the like, which has meant the fan headers are certainly better-placed, while the extra room means the internally-mounted SATA 6Gbps ports are better-spaced too.
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As with its Z77 predecessor, the Z87i-Pro is limited to two DIMM slots that can each address 8GB of RAM, so you're total maximum is 16GB of RAM. This isn't a major issue for most of us right now but could be a limitation for really heavy users. There's also not a lot of room round the DIMM slots so we envisage some awkwardness here, especially if you need to insert or remove modules with the board mounted in a case.
As far as overclocking tools are concerned, there are no power and reset switches but you are able to reset the CMOS using a button on the back panel, next to which is a USB BIOS Flashback button. This allows you to update the BIOS without a CPU installed - probably not an issue if you're buying a new CPU and motherboard now, but potentially useful if the next generation of LGA1150 CPUs require a BIOS update.
Chipset Intel Z87
CPU support LGA1150 compatible
Memory support 2 slots: max 16GB
Sound Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel
Networking Intel Gigabit LAN, bluetooth V3.0 + V4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n dual band WiFi
Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z87, 8 x USB 3 (2 x via headers), 6 x USB 2 ( 2 via headers), LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI,