Thursday, June 4, 2015

My first Mini-ITX motherboard is here


So, someone finally wanted to grab my Asus Maximus VII Gene motherboard and I decided to purchase the Asus Z97i Plus Mini-ITX board. The reason for getting a Mini-ITX motherboard was to make my already small gaming rig even smaller. Well, not just smaller, but lighter too. One might think I am insane, but I have my reasons for doing so which I am not willing to disclose just yet.

Sure, features wise it is sort of a downgrade. The old board had support for dual graphics cards, 4 DIMM slots, a much better audio solution (at least on paper) and better overclocking capabilities (again, on paper). Unfortunately, I am not willing to put a second graphics card or upgrade the memory beyond 16GB. My Core i7 4790K doesn't overclock high enough to warrant a better overclocking motherboard. It only does 4.5GHz without exquisite cooling which would be an easy feat for any Z97 board available. The only thing I would miss would be the audio chip. But I doubt that I would have any issues adjusting myself to the one on the Z97I-Plus board. I will probably feel that it sounds different, but not worse.

On the other hand, the Z97I offers some important features too. In-built Wireless 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.0 support is one. Better CPU socket placement with respect to the first PCI-E slot is another, although this would only be useful to people who want to install a large CPU cooler. It doesn't apply to me because I'm most probably going to end up with an AIO closed loop water cooling unit.

The installation of the board wasn't that difficult inside the SG09 case because of its size. You have to take off the PSU to install a Micro-ATX board inside that case but this new board didn’t require me to do so. I had some issues when installing the front audio cable because I didn't connect it before installing the radiator, which made access to it difficult. Yes, I said radiator because I decided to not install the Noctua NH-U12S cooler this time around. I hooked up my old Antec Kuhler 620 cooler on the CPU. It is not at its 100% due to aging, but gets the job done. Since I'm planning on selling the Noctua as well (because it won’t fit inside the SG13 case), I didn't want to open up the case again in the event someone wanted to buy it. I have already listed up on Rakuten Auctions.

I forgot to mention earlier but this motherboard has only 3 fan headers. One for the CPU and two for the case fans. Since I was using the rear exhaust case fan on the radiator, I plugged its cable into the socket on the the pump and the power cable of the pump to the CPU fan header on the motherboard. The top 180mm Air Penetrator fan was plugged into one of the case fan headers. However the 2nd fan header wasn't utilized. I had three more fans to be plugged in -  the ones on the side panel, and I decided to plug them to a molex connector. Since those fans run loud at full speed, I had to make them run at 7V.

I plugged the SSDs to the inner SATA ports and the hard drives to the outer SATA ports for no specific reason. I really did not put much thought into arranging the internals because this is supposed to be a temporary setup, assuming everything goes well.

Finally, everything was installed. Before installing the side panels of the case though, I checked if the PC would POST. As it POSTed OK, I entered the UEFI. That was to check if  every drive was correctly detected and also to set the boot drive to the Samsung 850 Evo. Everything went without a hiccup and I could boot into Windows without requiring a reinstall of the OS. Then I turned the PC off and closed the side panels.


Just to see how much the new board and the change of CPU coolers affected the weight of the PC, I put it on the scale. To my amazement, the total weight showed as 11kg. It used to be 12.5kg before the change of components. I didn’t think it would make such a different. Remember though that I am not using any additional fans on the radiator. I am using the rear stock exhaust fan. (I know it is not ideal.) On the other hand, I had two fans on the Noctua NH-U12S cooler – the stock NF-F12 fan and an Enermax T.B. Silence fan I had in the closet. I guess the newer board weighs about 1kg less than the old one as well. Maybe less, I just don’t know.

I applied the same overclock settings as I had on the M7G. I didn't want to stress test because I might have to do that when (if)  I switch cases. There is a very good chance that the same overclocking settings would work because it was a conservative overclock if 4.5GHz @1.21V. I did try the automatic overclocking feature but it just seemed to set a preset value. It would probably work properly if run from Asus AI Suite but I'm not going to install it because it is too bloated.

Few things that were missing in the BIOS was ability to turn off HPET and the ability to secure erase an SSD. Other than the difference in the colour scheme, I felt as if I was at home. I did update the firmware from v2304 to v2605 which is the latest version. Weird thing happened when I updated. After flashing the firmware to the latest version from the flasher program built into the UEFI, I was asked to enter the UEFI and rerun the flasher program to finish the updating process. That had never happened to me before. With the M7G, there were iROG ROMs (whatever they are for) that required updating too, but it was automated. I was a bit scared at first, especially since I didn't buy it from Amazon. (I could have simply asked them to send a new board tomorrow if this one was having issues.) This incident might put me off from updating the firmware in the future. Nah, who am I kidding?

I will report about my experience with this motherboard, especially once I shrink it down to half the size and weight.

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