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Armored: ASUS Z87 Gryphon Reviewed Featured

ASUS brought us the thermal armor concept back in the X58 days with the Sabertooth and although the concept has skipped a chipset or two, this is the first time we've seen it implemented on a micro-ATX board... and we like what they've done.

When looking at a motherboard, regardless of it's form factor, it usually falls into one of three categories: Standard/functional, Gaming or Overclocking. There is usually some overlap between the gaming and overclocking boards due to their enthusiast target market but the Gryphon has a different focus which makes it more interesting. The Z87 Gryphon is built for longevity and reliability - and it's more of a "Jack of all trades" as it doesn't really fit into any of the typical categories. 

ASUS sent us a review sample of the Z87 Gryphon motherboard with matching Armor kit and I spent a month checking it out in an open air test bench with a tower cooler, then in a case with water cooling to see if the armor was truly special or a gimmick. In the end, you will see why this board carves out its own niche in the market and while it might not be for everyone, it's going to be right on the money for some people.

The Gryphon comes um... well.. "naked" by default as the Thermal Armor kit is available separately. This is great for consumers as it allows them to choose now or later on if they really want the armored version. On the Sabertooth boards, it's part of the deal so the Gryphon is a good start for those wanting a TUF series board with SLI but on a moderate budget.

Pete wrote a article on this site a while back about hardware longevity and the benefits of buying quality and higher spec to make get longer out of a purchase. The design of the Z87 Gryphon takes this to a new level, ASUS has used components with military grade ratings, produced an optional kit to protect the components from dust and physical damage as well as backing their product with a 5 YEAR WARRANTY. In terms of build quality, it's all there and it's also one of the cheaper SLI qualified motherboards available. If you are looking for a board to grow old with, this one could be your best friend.

Main

 

I was curious about the origins of the TUF series with thermal armor from ASUS as we don't really see anything else like it from other manufacturers - so I asked them how it came about.  The design concepts/considerations were:

  1. To ensure that all components get sufficient airflow to dissipate the heat, especially in a small chassis with limited or no airflow due to cables or other components.
  2. To divide the space inside the chassis into two separate thermal zones, above and below the armor. The concept is to help prevent the hot air coming from a heat source (most possibly the VGA cards) from blowing directly onto the onboard components.
  3. To repeal dust that may be congested over time, preventing the possibility of component failure when undesired moisture comes.
  4. To prevent PCB scratch and SMT components from been scratched out of the PCB during improper installation of add-on cards or when there is insufficient light during system assembly.

When you look at the Gryphon without the armor, it looks rugged and maybe a little plain. There are no power, reset or overclocking buttons, no LED error code display and the colour scheme is military stlye drab. This is also what makes the board great - the TUF series boards are the only boards I've found that blend in well with the beige and maroon Noctua fans.

There is an absence of features that many gamers are happy to live without like the onboard switches, an extra SATA controller and more USB 3.0 ports. The heat sinks have a military look to them and the colour palate used by the designers suits the concept. It's also not going to be a crime to attach the armor kit and cover most of the motherboard with a  black plastic shroud. The connectors and heat sinks are a mixture of beige, olive green, brown an charcoal/black - no candy apple red, bright green, yellow or blue to be seen here.

Images courtesy of ASUS


TUF stands for "The Ultimate Force" and there are only a few motherboards produced by ASUS under this banner - but what does it mean to system builders and why would you choose a TUF board over something else?

ASUS markets the board with a focus on being rugged and the inclusion of Military Grade components. This is backed up with a "Certificate of Reliability" that lists the standards as set out in the table below.

I had a look at some of the tests on various accreditation sites to see what is involved and it's no gimmick - these test push the components beyond what they should see in real life use, even in harsh dusty or humid environments. The ASUS Certificate of Reliability accompanying our review sample stated that the motherboard was tested by Integrated Service Technology.
TUF Components

Capacitors Chokes MOSFETs
  • Thermal Shock Test (MIL-STD-202G TEST METHOD 107G)
  • Moisture Resistance Test (MIL-STD-202G TEST METHOD 106G)
  • Salt Spray Test (MIL-STD-883G method 1009.8)
  • Solderability Test (MIL-STD-202G 208H Test Method)
  • Solder Bath Test (MIL-STD-202G-210F Test Method)
  • Vibration Test 9MIL-STD-202G Method 201A)
  • Mechanical Shock Test (MIL-STD-202G Method 213B Condition D)
  • Vibration Test (MIL-STD-810F Method 514)
  • Temperature Cycling Test (MIL-STD-810F Method 501/502
  • Thermal Shock Test (MIL-STD-883G 1011.9)
  • Vibration Test (MIL-STD-833 Method 2007.2 Condition A)
  • Mechanical Shock Test (MIL-STD-883G2002.4)

 

ESD protection

ASUS designers also implemented Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) guards to protect components. There are additional holes in the board for attaching the optional armor plate to protect from physical/contact damage.

Knocks, Bumps and Dust

The armor kit includes slot covers to ward off dust and the top armor has a 40mm fan built into it to provide thermal relief to the zone below the plastic cover. The plastic shroud also helps to protect the board if you are installing components in a tight case as it covers most of the board's components and circuit paths. This means that a Z87 Gryphon fitted with the armor kit should be more forgiving if you get a case of "butter fingers" when performing an upgrade or installation.

Thermal Radar

There is also the Thermal Radar software that comes with the motherboard which is designed for the TUF series motherboards and allows for customising all fans attached to motherboard headers (PWM or 3 PIN) to maintain a temperature or acoustic balance. There are also motherboard headers for 3 temperature probes (included in the armor kit) so that you can monitor areas of the case like hard drive bays, ambient case temperatures and other warm spots of interest.

The 40mm fan in the thermal armor also has the option of running for a set period of time (1 minute by default) after shutdown the cool the components. 

Some of the above sounds like overkill but it's good to see a comprehensive approach to build quality. 


The complete specifications of the ASUS Gryphon Z87 are listed below. When working with the review sample, we didn't have any compatibility or clearance issues with our components - with or without the armor fitted. The CPU cooler back plates for our Noctua NH-U12S and XSPC Raystorm fitted without any obstruction from the armor kit. 

The utility bundle isn't as extensive as we saw with the premium ASUS Maximus VI but it worked as advertised and had all the essentials plus the Thermal Radar software. 

Technical Specifications

CPU Support

Intel® Socket 1150 for 4th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
Supports Intel® 22 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list

Chipset Intel® Z87 
Main Memory

4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 1866/1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).

Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
SATA

Intel® Z87 chipset :
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), brown
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology

USB Intel® Z87 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z87 chipset :
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (4 at back panel, black, 4 at mid-board)
Audio Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
- BD Audio Layer Content Protection
Network Intel® I217V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Multi-GPU

Integrated Graphics Processor
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI ports
- Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
- Supports DVI with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
Maximum shared memory of 1024 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™

Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology

Special Features
TUF ENGINE! Power Design :
- 8 +2 Digital Phase Power Design
- TUF Components (Alloy choke, Ti-Cap. & MOSFET; certified by military-standard)
- ASUS DIGI+ Power Control Utility
Ultimate COOL! Thermal Solution :
- TUF Thermal Radar 2
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- Remote GO!
- USB BIOS Flashback
- AI Suite 3
- Ai Charger
- USB Charger+
- ESD Guards
- Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
- ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
- Network iControl
- USB 3.0 Boost
ASUS EZ DIY :
- DirectKey
- Precision Tweaker 2
- ASUS O.C. Profile
- ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
- ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
- ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode
- Multi-language BIOS
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Internal I/O Connections 1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin, moss green)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x TPM header
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x Assistant Fan connector(s) (1 x 3 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x DirectKey Button(s)
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
3 x Thermal sensor connector(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback button(s)
Rear Panel I/O Connections 1 x DVI-D
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
BIOS 64 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS,
ASUS EZ Flash 2, ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3, My Favorites, Quick Note, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions, and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information
Dimensions mATX Form Factor
9.6 inch x 9.6 inch ( 24.4 cm x 24.4 cm )
Manageability WfM 2.0, DMI 2.7, WOL by PME, PXE
Support Disk Drivers
ASUS Utilities
ASUS/TUF CPU-Z
Anti-virus software (OEM version)

 


Accessories

ASUS also include the following accessories in the package:

  • User's manual
  • ASUS Q-Shield (shown below)
  • 4 x SATA 6Gb/s cables
  • 1 x SLI bridge
  • 1 x Q-connector
  • 1 x TUF Certification card(s)
  • 1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual
  • 1 x TUF Inside sticker

Nothing over the top but everything you need to get started. The only thing we thought might have been nice was another 2 SATA cables but the inclusion of 4 is pretty standard for motherboards these days.

Optional Armor Kit

The Gryphon Z87 is a good offering on its own and ASUS has given the consumer the choice of a well priced, SLI capable micro ATX motherboard loaded with highly durable components with the option of stretching another $50-55 to deck the board out with a thermal armor kit to make it even more durable. The kit consists of:

  • Top armor plate
  • Bottom armor plate 
  • 40mm fan
  • Dust slot covers
  • Rear IO connection covers
  • 3 thermal probes
  • Screw driver
  • Instruction manual

The ASUS Gallery shots are below

Our box opening shots of the armor kit are below. Note the solid metal base and light plastic top with 40mm fan that can be swapped out if desired. 

Installation

The armor is fitted with the board upside down, screws going in from the metal base plate to the top plastic shroud. The instructions were easy to follow and the installation took about 10 minutes with me ambling along and taking my time. The result looks pretty good and means that the motherboard should suit just about any case theme with any lighting or accessories because its black.

A 40mm fan?

The 40mm fan is really important to maintaining airflow under the top armor cover but it doesn't have to work hard to be effective. In 'silent' mode, the fan is not audible once windows has started. The fan is audible on boot as it ramps up and until a fan profile kicks in - the fan can also be configured to run post shutdown for a user defined period of time to cool components after they are powered down. It's a neat option and although it's difficult to say how much difference it makes in the long term, having the feature certainly won't hurt. We tested the fan at the 'silent' setting and at full tilt, finding the difference on the VCORE and DRAM sensors to be around 3 degrees in favour of full speed but at an unacceptable acoustic penalty - that little fan make a lot of noise at full speed and in real world use, you should never need to have it above audible. Under the ASUS Silent and Standard settings, the fan had a positive effect and was either inaudible or barely audible despite how warm we tried to make the case.

Protection

Thermally, the armor kit offers a slight improvement. Initially on the open air test bench, I couldn't detect any tangible thermal benefit, so much so that I removed the armor and repeated the testing on the 'naked' board again. Sure enough, no difference - so I tested it in the way that it was meant to be used, in a case. In the case, I found that there was an improvement to component temperatures when the airflow of the case was reduced, the CPU/GPU both maxed out and the internal case temperature increased to around 37 degrees. The difference as about 5 degrees on the VCORE, VCORE (Black) and DRAM sensors. The GPU slot sensors were about the same or within margin for error with the armor fitted or removed but this will vary depending on the GPU solution that you might use. The stock GTX580 exhausted air out the back and the Twin Frozr cooler on our GTX 760 didn't see the GPU to get over 70 degrees.

In terms of dust, I didn't use the Gryphon Z87 long enough to let it cake up but I can see how the covers will help on that front and ASUS include dust protectors for everything, USB headers, SATA ports, the lot.

Physical damage is something that I'm most interested in avoiding as it's the most likely culprit due to the amount of times I have to 'relocate' motherboards or change components. When you are fitting an armor plated Gryphon Z87 into a case, it feels rugged and protected - and heavier.

Aesthetics are also important and the black plastic top plate has a checker plate pattern that once fitted makes the board "colour agnostic" in that you could match it with any lighting theme because it's 95% black. There are hints of brown and beige visible but it's mostly black flat surfaces but not enough to clash with a  lighting theme. We used green and UV (that looks blue in the photos) because that was what we had available but a clean white,  blue or red should also work out well.


Main Board

The board layout is similar to the ASUS Maximus VI and MSI Z87M Gaming except for a few missing features but the fan headers are spread around the outer edges, the PCIE slots are spaced in a standard way with the 16x,8x to operate in Sandwich mode (i.e without a slot gap). There are 6 SATA ports, MemOK and DirectKey buttons and 3 headers for thermal sensor probes (included in the armor kit).

One thing you notice straight away is the additional holes in the board - these are for fitting the armor if you choose to buy it. There is also a 3 pin header specifically for the 40mm fan in the armor kit so it doesn't take up one of the system or chassis fan headers.

 

 

G87 line
Image courtesy of ASUS

The battery is located above the PCIE x16 slot but it would be difficult to remove the battery without having to also remove the graphics card. It's a moot point though as there is a Clear CMOS button on the bottom edge of the motherboard that is easy to get to as well as the USB BIOS Flashback feature that allows you to flash the BIOS without POSTing.

The DirectKey button allows you to boot straight into BIOS from a powered down state - great after an overclocking misadventure or if you have fastboot turned on and just want to tweak quickly without having going into windows to trigger a restart into BIOS. 

As with the ASUS Maximus VI Gene and MSI Z86M Gaming, when running SLI or Crossfire, the graphics cards are sandwiched close together which means that they will run hotter and louder than on a full sized board where there is usually a slot gap between the PCIe 16/8x slots. The other issue that this spacing presents is the difficulty in accessing the PCIe clip to release the cards. This is not a criticism of this motherboard but just something to be aware of if you intend to use dual graphics cards on a micro-ATX board. The upside is that all of the IO connections along the bottom edge of the motherboard are accessible when using 2 dual slot graphics cards. This also means that you can extend the gaming life of the board/CPU platform by adding second graphics card for SLI or Crossfire down the track rather than undertaking a full upgrade.

Rear IO Panel

The read IO panel looks sparse - this is due to a 3 key factors. The Armor kit uses a 40mm fan to draw in air from above the DVI port so ASUS had to leave room for the air to pass through. The USB and SATA ports are as per the Z87 specification in that ASUS did not include any additional USB 3 or SATA controllers so there are no extra eSATA ports or USB connectors on the back.

rear

4x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0, 1x DVI, 1x HDMI, 1x Optical Audio, 6 3.5mm jacks and an RJ45 LAN adaptor should be ample for most people. We liked to see the DVI connector implemented here and while it doesn't look as busy as other boards, it has everything we consider essential.

The rear IO shield is black and has a filter to limit the dust intake when using the armor kit.


Included Software Utilities

  • TUF Thermal Radar 2
  • Remote GO!
  • USB BIOS Flashback
  • AI Suite 3
  • Ai Charger
  • USB Charger+
  • Network iControl
  • USB 3.0 Boost
  • EZ Update

TUF Thermal Radar 2

The Thermal Radar 2 software is very similar to the Fan Xpert 2 application that we saw on the Maximus VI GENE motherboard but has a wider array of temperature sensors including extra sensors that can drive fan speeds for the appropriate noise/airflow balance. There are also 3x 2 pin thermal probe headers for probes to monitor hard drive bays GPU intake or general ambient temperature readings. See the gallery below for the screenshots and note how intuitive it is to setup the fans, profiles and rules for the balance that you are after.

ASUS AI Suite 3

AI Suite 3 isn't as comprehensive as the GENE in that there is no dedicated TPU or EPU for managing the overclocking or down clocking of the CPU. All overclocking needs to be done at a BIOS/UEFI level. The AI Suite 3 application joins all of the system tools together.

Remote Go!

The Remote Go! application allows for remote desktop from a smartphone or tablet, file transfers and media streaming over the onboard LAN adapter.

Ai Charger and USB Charger +

These are great - you can optimise a USB 3.0 port for charging your phone or tablet up to twice as fast and even allow it to charge devices when in standby or powered off. This isn't a new feature nor is the concept exclusive to ASUS but it's really handy and something I use on a regular basis.

Network iControl

Although the LAN is the standard Intel controller as opposed to the Killer NIC we have seen implemented on the enthusiast gaming boards, ASUS has included network traffic prioritisation software to help manage bandwidth for you. Although software like this can help your ping when playing online games, I find it just as easy to shut-down bittorrent and turn off any Origin or Steam downloads. Network iControl is a nice to have and in our limited testing of if, we found it to work as advertised.

USB 3.0 Boost

The Gryphon supports UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) for data transfer speeds of up to 170% faster on devises that also support the standard. It seems that our USB devices were not UASP compatible as we didn't notice any improved transfer speeds but I'd rather have this feature than not on a board that should go the distance of 5 years or more - at which point AUSP devices should be more common.

EZ Update

This is a nifty little program that checks online for BIOS, Software or Driver updates and also lets you change the boot logo that displays for about a second. It's nothing earth shattering but I'd be complaining if it wasn't there. Keeping up to date should be made as easy as possible for the consumer even if they don't want to apply the updates. Once I get a system running and stable, I tend to leave the BIOS unless I have a problem but I'll regularly update graphics card drivers.


Test Setup

We have an i5-4670K that can hit 4.6GHz before things get unstable and our Noctua NH-U12S does a good job of supporting our overclocks even though it's not one of the biggest coolers we have in the cupboard. The Corsair HX-850 is overkill but it allows us some headroom for SLI configurations and the Lian Li Pitstop T60 open air test bench makes it easier to both relocate and keep our testing area "neat-ish..." 

Open Air Test Bench

CPU

i5-4670K

CPU Cooler
Noctua NH-U12S
Memory 16GB Corsair Vengeance Low Profile - Black (4x4GB)
Case Lian Li Pitstop T60
Hard Drive

Seagate Barracuda 2TB & Intel 520 120GB SSD

Power Supply

Corsair HX850

Graphics Cards

Gigabyte GTX670 OC 2GB Windforce3 (in SLI)
MSI GTX 760 HAWK
Gigabyte GTX 580 (Stock cooler)

Tested without a discrete GPU for a number of scenarios

Audio

Corsair HSA-1 headset

Network

Direct connection to the cable modem &
Shared Gigabit connection via Netgear WNDR3700 router

Optical Samsung SATA2 BluRay drive
OS
Windows 7 & Windows 8.1

Closed Case Testing

Due to the nature of the Thermal Armor, we also tested this motherboard in a closed case with a water loop to see how effective the armor kit was in a real life scenario. The case fans and radiator fans were tested running off the mother board headers for the core benchmarking. See the spec below.

CPU

i5-4670K

CPU Cooler XSPC Raystorm 720 EX240 Custom Water loop
Memory 16GB Corsair Vengeance Low Profile - Black (4x4GB)
Case Fractal Design Arc Midi R2
Hard Drive

Seagate Barracuda 2TB & Intel 520 120GB SSD

Power Supply

Fractal Design Newton R3 white 1000W Power Supply

Graphics Cards

Gigabyte GTX670 OC 2GB Windforce3 (in SLI)
MSI GTX 760 HAWK
Gigabyte GTX 580 (Stock cooler)

Audio

Corsair HSA-1 headset / GameCom 780 USB Headset

Network

Direct connection to the cable modem &
Shared Gigabit connection via Netgear WNDR3700 router

Optical USB Samsung DVD writer
OS Windows 7 & Windows 8.1

When testing in the closed case, we tested with normal airflow as someone would normally build a PC but then we also tested with obstructed airflow by placing the Arc Midi R2 with its whole front panel 1cm away from a flat surface. The intention was to increase the internal ambient case temperature to see if the armor made a difference and to also test how loud the 40mm fan got on the standard profile.

Overclocking

I was able to achieve a manual overclock of 4.6GHz with our i5-4670K @ 1.30v on air cooling and achieved the same result with the XSPC water loop although temperatures were lower on water.

On the open air test bench with an ambient temperature of 25 degrees, we saw the maximum temperature on the cores hit 84 degrees with an average maximum temperature of 80.5 degrees Celsius. In the Fractal Design Arc Midi R2 case with water cooling, the maximum temp reached by any of the cores was 82 with an average of 78.5, again with a 25 degree ambient temperature. 

ASUS don't have any TPU switches or AI Suite software options on the Z87 Gryphon so overclocking is all done via UEFI BIOS. Our chip seems to be stuck at 4.6GHz and we were not able to beat it on the Z87 Gryphon either - in fact it performed the same as the MSI Z87M Gaming and the more expensive Maximus VI Gene.

UEFI Configuration

The UEFI BIOS is straight forward and relatively simple. You can rename the SATA connections, tweak the fans and adjust boot options with ease. The interface is intuitive and a system builder with a little experience shouldn't get lost. The manual is also detailed enough to explain the features and functions. We didn't experience any compatibility issues with our Logitech G110 USB keyboard, Logitech K400 USB wireless keyboard or Corsair M65 USB mouse.

Sound

Analog Testing

After testing the sound solutions on the MSI Z87M Gaming and ASUS Maximus VI GENE, I was expecting a lower grade of sound due to the Realtek soundchip used on the Z87 Gryphon. In order to reduce unintended bias, I didn't compare the sound between the Gryphon and the Gene until the end of the testing. I just used the board to play some games, watch moves and listen to music to see if I felt it was missing anything. The sound clarity, driver implementation and gaming experience was clear and if you haven't had a superior sound solution previously or use the digital output, I would expect that you won't be left wanting in terms of what you hear. Side by side, I believe that I can hear the difference between the Realtek ALC892 on the Z87 Gryphon and an ASUS Xonar DX, the SupremeFX on the GENE or the GameCom780 (USB sound). It's worth noting that I find it harder to tell the 3 high spec audio sources apart but note that there is a difference between them as a group and the ALC892 on the Gryphon.

Output wasn't the issue in my case but the microphone volume was a little low for VOIP during gameplay. I also tested the same headset through a USB sound card and an ASUS Xonar DX with clearer voice to my squad mates. If you don't use VOIP when gaming, this shouldn't matter. The sound software interface is similar to other offerings, allowing the selection of acoustic sound effects and the audio jacks are auto sensing so the system knows when you plug something in.

Digital Testing

I tested Digital Output via optical to a 5.1 channel home theatre system that I have setup in the test lab and the resulting audio was the same as the Xonar DX and Supreme FX. I didn't have any issues whatsoever.

The onboard audio will provide a more than adequate experience for most people but audiophiles and serious enthusiasts will want to add to the platform here. 


So we tested the Z87 Gryphon in both open air and a closed in case to get to know the Thermal Armor and answer the question as to if it actually works. 

The Thermal Armor works although you have to test it 'right'. In the interests of testing the design, we wanted to max out the CPU and GPU at the same time so we "Folded" to keep the system toasty. In the interests of consistency, we used the MSI GTX 760 HAWK as the non reference cooler doesn't exhaust the warm air like a stock cooler. Our GPU nudged 70 degrees on occasion but held a maximum temperature of 69 degrees when folding and at 100% load. 

In the open air test bench, I couldn't notice a consistent or clear difference in the sensor readings on the motherboard with the armor fitted compared to the standard Gryphon. I tested it twice but the difference was within margin for error and by no means conclusive. This is because the airflow outside a case negates the effect of the thermal armor.

The water-cooled test in the closed case was a different story. the case had reasonable airflow but due to the water block, airflow across the motherboard was nothing like our Noctua NH-U12S on the open air test bench.

The temperatures in degrees Celsius are below - these were all recorded with an ambient room temperature of 25 degrees. Note that this is with the system under full GPU and CPU load with the CPU overclocked to 4.6GHZ @ 1.3 volts

Sensor Open Air
(Armor Kit)
Open Air
(No Armor)
Good Airflow
Closed Case
(Armor Kit)
Good Airflow
Closed Case
(No Armor)
Obstructed
Closed Case
(Armor Kit)
Obstructed 
Closed Case
(No Armor)
CPU  79 80 80   80 79 82
Motherboard  31 32 31  31  35 36
VCORE  50 49 51  52  51 56
VCORE (Black)  42 42 38  40  42 47
DRAM  49 50 46  47  53 58
PCH  43 44 42  42  48 50
PCIE 1  37 37 36  36  44 45
PCIE 2  33 35 33  33  40 41
Ambient Case Internal Temp N/A N/A 32 32 35 37

Observations

In the Open Air scenario, the results were consistently within a degree of each other and what we considered to be margin for error. The thermal armor added no thermal advantage in a test bench situation but it did provide physical protection.

In the situation of a standard build with good airflow through the case and across the motherboard, we saw a trend although minor towards the thermal armor adding value in keeping components cool but it wasn't what we would consider to be significant.

When we obstructed the (intake) airflow through the case the difference became more obvious with the VCORE and DRAM benefiting to the tune of about 5 degrees. The ambient temperature also read at a lower  temperature, possibly because of the additional airflow of the 40mm fan

The 40mm fan was not audible on the Silent or Standard ASUS profiles.

When moving the board between cases and installing and removing the thermal armor, it was obvious that I felt more comfortable installing the board with the Thermal Armor fitted. We are always really careful but when you install and uninstall gear for testing and concept build as much as we do, accidents can happen - especially if you are tired or in a hurry.

 


Compromises or Value?

I know a few gamers who are still running the now ancient socket 775 Intel CPUs which makes their core platform 6 years or older. One guy has a Q9550 with 8GB RAM and more recent graphics card but 90% of the time he plays Team Fortress 2 or CounterStrike so he's not complaining. Relevance? The platform still suits their needs despite the motherboard being at least 2 years out of warranty and the CPU being deemed End Of Life by Intel in 2011. By selecting components carefully, a system builder can effectively get a longer system warranty (at a component level) for peace of mind that their rig is covered against an early retirement and costly upgrade. It's not hard to find memory with a lifetime warranty or power supplies backed by a 5-7 year warranty.

There are a few notable omissions on the Gryphon Z87 when compared to the more expensive boards we have reviewed lately. Compared to the Maximus VI Gene which is about $85 more expensive (board to board, not including the armor), the Gryphon Z87 makes the following design compromises:

  • memory compatibility,
  • ASMedia ASM1061 controller for 2 additional 6Gb/s SATA ports,
  • SupremeFx sound and sonic radar
  • ASmedia USB 3.0 controller for 4 additional USB 3 ports
  • mPCIe Combo II connector
  • power buttons and onboard LED error display

Listing out the above may look like a lot but when you look at the Gryphon for what it is, it's a very interesting offering. It has ample USB 2 and USB 3 ports, 6 internal 6Gb/s SATA ports should suffice in most micro ATX cases and most gamers won't be bothered by the high end memory compatibility options or missing onboard power and reset buttons. The ALC892 audio might deter some enthusiasts but it's fine unless you are used to better and USB headsets make onboard analog audio redundant anyway. Remember too that this board is SLI and Crossfire capable - one of the cheapest multi GPU platforms around in the micro ATX form factor.

The added inclusions are higher grade components, better thermal monitoring and fan control software, 2 years more warranty than most other options and all of the core features including multi GPU in Crossfire and SLI.

Once you add the armor kit, the gap starts to close on the Maximus VI Gene ($34 difference) and brings the fully armored Gryphon on par price wise with the MSI Z87M Gaming. With the armor factored in, the decision suddenly gets a bit harder and the true factors like the workstation purpose, builder style, aesthetics, brand loyalty come in.

This places it price-wise as below:

  • ASRock Z87M Extreme 4 at $159
  • ASUS Gryphon Z87 (not including option armor kit) at $185
  • ASUS Gryphon Z87 + Armor kit at $235
  • MSI Z87M Gaming at $235
  • ASUS Maximus VI Gene at $269
  • Gigabyte G1 Sniper M5 at $275

At $235 with the armor fitted, this is likely to be a platform for enthusiasts with a specific build requirement or vision, gamers with that kind of budget will spend that sort of money on the Z87M Gaming or stretch to the Maximus VI Gene.

Conclusion

This review was more difficult than I had thought at the outset because it's difficult to know what to compare the Z87 Gryphon with and the thermal armor required a different testing approach to do it justice.

The ASUS Z87 Gryphon is a good product and will be well suited to system builders who are working to a budget but wanting SLI in the micro-ATX form factor with a durable board and are not concerned about some of the luxury extras. It will appeal to those who want the style of the Sabertooth but in a more LAN friendly size.

Aesthetically, the board is great and with the armor kit, it's quite subtle. The plastic top armor plate has a checker plate finish and will reflect LEDs as shown in our test gallery. You can choose to make the board a feature or blend into the background so that you can show off your crazy water loop, LED bling and other crazy mods - being colour agnostic is something that can't be said for most motherboards.

The Gryphon performed well in all of my testing, was a pleasure to game on and overclocked well. 

Where this board really shines for me is how easy it is to work with when combined with the armor kit. Moving it from the test bench to a water cooled case with a cumbersome and heavy copper water block connected to 2 thick hoses wasn't a worry as the board was well protected for an accidental knock. Positioning the board was also easy as the armor provides more places to hold the board without the worry of Electro Static Discharge (ESD) or scratching it. The additional durability testing and warranty make the TUF series something to consider if you are in hot, dusty or humid areas.

The software bundle isn't as rich as some of the other alternatives but we were not left wanting and the inclusion of thermal sensors all over the board that can be used to drive fan speeds basically make manual fan controllers redundant.

The ASUS Gryphon Z87 might not have absolutely all the features that you "want" but it's almost certainly got everything you "need" plus a little bit more.

ASUS went to a lot of effort to make the Gryphon look and feel durable and 'TUF' - it's backed by a 5 year warranty which is more than most (possibly all) other motherboards. For those looking for a sub $200 SLI capable board though, this one is hard to beat.

 

ASUS Z87 Gryphon 'TUF' Series Motherboard
 Main

PROS

Cost effective microATX SLI platform with option of buying the armor to make it more affordable
High grade components and build quality
CROSSFIRE & SLI support for under $190
Intuitive, quality software & utilities
Aesthetics suit almost all case designs, lighting themes and build concepts
Excellent Warranty of 5 years

CONS

The microphone levels were a bit soft
Overclocking features for n00bs are not present in the AI Suite software

  TheValueAward

 

 

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Last modified onMonday, 10 March 2014 23:22

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