Z87 FTW VRM
There used to be a lot to talk about when we’d cover this – the most important part of any motherboard. With Haswell, gone is the need for insanely huge VRMs with phase counts in the teens. EVGA have done something pretty interesting with their design though.
The Z87 FTW features a 6-phase VRM, which is an unusual number (but shouldn’t be). You can probably see for yourself that they are using all International Rectifier parts – you can see the PWM at top, and the six PowIRstage packs that combine driver and mosfet into one package next to six custom chokes. You can also see one component sitting by itself at the top, between the PWM and MOSFETs…
Here’s a closer look, so we can tell you about each component. The PWM is an IR3567B, which is a highly regarded digital unit from the Ivy Bridge days (which is why it’s a 6+2 phase controller). In this case, all 6 phases are used for the CPU, since that’s all that’s needed now with Haswell.
The 6 phases are handed by IR3550M PowIRstage packs, which as mentioned include a driver and MOSFET in one massive package rated at 60A. Needless to say, six of these will provide your CPU with plenty of power, and this is why the Z87 FTW only needs six phases rather than eight or doubled to 12 or 16.
That leaves us with the IR3899 at the top. That is a single voltage buck regulator EVGA added, and makes it an interesting VRM design. What this does is convert the 12V from the power supply to 6.5v before it even reaches the IR3567B PWM. From there, the rest of the components do their job to convert to 1.8V (which is the single voltage Haswell now requires) According to EVGA, this provides better overall efficiency compared to going straight from 12V to 1.8V. There is always a tradeoff between conduction/switching losses and gate charge, and apparently EVGA believe that they have found the sweet spot, at least for their goals in this particular design. It should be interesting to see if this helps overclocking at least. We have taken our 4770K to 4.8 GHz, but that was with a much more expensive 16 phase (doubled) VRM.
The memory VRM, by comparison, is much more simple. And that is fine – it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this. They use a simple CHL8325B 5 phase digital buck controller, two phases sent to a pair of IR3553M PowIRstage driver/MOSFETs good for 40A each. Everything is still digital here, using high quality, durable components from International Rectifier.
Z87 FTW Component Tour
Now it’s time to take our macro lens, and go over every inch of the Z87 FTW to take a close look at what makes it what it is.
The first thing to catch your eye will probably be this cluster of buttons and LED panel. The Z87 FTW features a power and reset button, along with another Clear CMOS button. What I like about these is that each either has its own feel, or a very easy to read label that is lit up. The reset button doubles as a hard drive LED by the way.
To the left is the diagnostic LED, which again is another useful feature. EVGA have made it far more useful than others, by using it as a thermal readout for the CPU once the system is booted past the UEFI. This is a very cool, useful feature for open bench overclocking (and even for aesthetics in a windowed case).
Also included are a set of dip switches to disable the four main PCI-E slots. Most people won’t need something like this, but again for open benchmarking, it can be very useful to have. What I really like are the LED indicators below it, which can help confirm that whatever you have plugged into each slot is working.
Also very handy is the ability to switch back and forth between BIOS chips. The Z87 FTW provides control over which chip to use, and each can be flashed individually after that. Also, the second chip is replaceable, which may come in handy if you happen to fry both of them.
“EZ Voltage” is EVGA’s branding for these voltage readout pins. I have to say though, that they aren’t exactly “EZ” to use. They aren’t labeled at all, and probing pins makes it easy to slide off and miss. If EVGA had included some adapters similar to what we saw MSI do in the past, this feature would be much more useful. Thankfully, the Z87 FTW has very good voltage monitoring features, as we’ll see further down this page.
Ethernet on the Z87 FTW is handled by an Intel I217V PHY. We have seen this little chip quite a bit lately, and it performs very well as you’ll see later.
The two extra internal SATA ports are controlled by a Marvell 9220 2-port SATA 6 Gbps controller. This is something you will only want to use in an emergency, or for your optical drive. As you’ll see later, it’s not a viable option when you have 6 ports of full speed Intel SATA 3.0.
The Asmedia ASM1061 is actually a better SATA controller in my opinion. In this case, EVGA are using it for the two eSATA ports on the rear panel.
The audio solution on the Z87 FTW is quite basic – it’s the same Realtek ALC898 codec we see on many motherboards. Audio output is smoothed out by using the caps to the left. Some motherboards use more of these than others, so it will be interesting to see if the sound quality is any different.
The Z87 FTW uses the same Fintek F71889AD Super I/O chip we saw them use in their last Intel motherboard. This is solely being used for its fan monitoring features this time, as the Z87 FTW offers none of the legacy serial ports or PCI connections this chip provides.
All of the fan and voltage monitoring components are run through this NXP LPC1224FBD64 ARM microcontroller. This is what provides the Z87 FTW with lag-free real-time system monitoring and controls.
In situations where several video cards are being used, sometimes the PCI-E slots don’t have enough power to maintain full stability. To remedy this, EVGA have added a 6-pin PCI-E adapter (along with a pair of Sinopower SM4301 MOSFETs) to the Z87 FTW. In fact, there is an option in the BIOS to use this as the power source instead of the 24-pin cable. There are a few things wrong with it, however.
First, although it’s a good feature to have, the decision to use a 6 pin adapter is probably not a good one. If the end user has several video cards installed, they are probably using all the 6 pin adapters their power supply can provide (and perhaps even some converted from molex plugs). In this case, the user will probably have to use a molex > 6 pin converter anyway.
Secondly, the 90 degree layout at the very bottom edge of the board is bad placement. The most popular PC chassis format is the mid-tower ATX size. In that case, the board will probably sitting right up on top of the power supply, which would completely block this port.
I appreciate this feature, but I have a feeling a lot of people are not going to be able to use it. In my opinion, Gigabyte’s solution of adding a SATA power adapter to the side of the Z87X-UD4H was a better decision.
EVGA have designed an all new BIOS UI for the Z87 FTW, moving away from the full text experience of their prior generation of motherboards. Let’s take a look and see what they came up with.