BEFORE WE CONTINUE with the rest of Asus’ new motherboard line-up, let’s take a closer look at some of the new features that Asus’ Sandy Bridge motherboards will feature. It’s interesting to see how many of the big motherboard companies are turning into software companies to be able to offer additional value-adds, although this article will talk about a bit more than just new software features.
Let’s start with a hardware related feature called Digi+ VRM. Unlike what the name suggests, Digi+ VRM is not the type of digital VRM that was popular a couple of years ago, instead this builds on Asus’ EPU. It’s a digital VRM controller, but for a more traditional type of power regulation circuitry. It’s hard to see the exact components used on the new Asus boards, but it’s clear that at least a few things have changed and Asus is using a different type of choke which has a lower profile than what we’re used to seeing. Digi+ VRM adds improved load line calibration to prevent Vdroop, it adjusts the power phases based on temperature and load and finally it features active VRM signal optimisation which automatically adjusts the PWM frequency to maintain consistent system Voltages.
Now it won’t be easy to test Asus’ claims, but Asus will be launching a new version of its AI Suite software aptly named AI Suite II which will enable manual control of many of the features that the Digi+ VRM brings to the table. We have to apologise for the bad quality of the pictures of AI Suite II, but we weren’t able to grab any screenshots, so taking snaps of a projector screen was our only option. AI Suite II has received a major overhaul compared to the previous version and it does at least look very flash, although we’re not sure how user friendly it’ll be.
The Digit+ VRM features in AI Suite II allows you to manually adjust the load line calibration, the CPU current, enable spread spectrum, a manual option for the power phases with a few pre-sets and even an option to manually set the frequency of the VRM. Now this is by no means for the faint of heart, but hopefully Asus has put in enough safeguards here so if someone starts to mess around with the settings and doesn’t quite know what they’re doing, the motherboard won’t have a meltdown.
The AI Suite II application also features overclocking, system monitoring, fan control and a wide range of other features. Asus has also integrated its BT GO! feature here, which is yet another new hardware feature that some of its models will come with. BT GO! is pretty much a fancy name for Asus own Bluetooth application, although it offers standard file sharing and all the other kind of Bluetooth features you’d expect, it also has two additional features. The first one is BT Turbo Remote which is an overclocking utility for your phone, much like the ROG iDirect feature on the R.O.G. series of motherboards. The second one is Pocket Media, a Windows Media Player remote control app.
Finally we have what’s possibly the biggest and most important feature of all of the new boards from Asus, UEFI or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. Again, apologies about the poor quality pictures here, but we were only shown some slides with portrayed the new UI of Asus’ UEFI implementation. However, Sweclockers posted a video showing off Asus UEFI interface in all its glory, but be warned, it’s all in Swedish. Unlike your trusty old BIOS, UEFI allows you to use the mouse to move around and make selections and adjust settings, something we haven’t seen since the good old 486 days when there was a BIOS in which you could use a PS/2 mouse to navigate, although the UI wasn’t exactly intuitive.
UEFI is set to bring a big change to consumer accessibility, as no-one can say that it’s straight forward to set up all the various BIOS settings. Asus has implemented a very clean UI under its EZ Mode which has a language selection drop down menu, some basic system information, various monitoring features, a three step performance option and a boot priority list. Even this might be overwhelming for some, but the fact that you can drag and drop your boot drive from a selection of options is in itself a great improvement.
The advanced UEFI settings are reached by hitting the Exit/Advanced Mode button at the top of the screen which brings up a popup menu that allows you to either save or discard your changes and exit, or to enter the advanced mode. In the advanced mode you’re greeted with an interface that isn’t too far away from what a typical BIOS looks like, but of course with a much better looking graphical user interface. You have a selection of tabs at the top of the screen that allows you to switch between various options and the sub menus within these tabs are again much like the options available in a standard BIOS.
A neat addition is the EZ Flash UEFI update utility, as it allows you to install UEFI updates from any of the drives attached to your system. This isn’t a standard feature on most BIOS based motherboards and hopefully we’ll see similar solutions become a standard feature on UEFI motherboards. Asus is still using AMI as its partner, although it’s not the only company providing UEFI solutions. We can’t wait to wave goodbye to the BIOS as it is, since it has become a mess to wade through on many motherboards, mostly due to its archaic structure. Another benefit of UEFI is that you’ll be able to boot from GPT partitions in Windows 7 which will enable access to hard drives larger than 2.2TB, as GPT is a replacement for MBR.
We know that Asus isn’t alone when it comes to developing new software features for its motherboards, but it’s interesting to see the direction motherboard makers are going. Bear in mind that all of these features are “free” and considered value-adds. The question is how much value these type of features really add, as it really comes down to how useful they are to you. That said, we don’t knock the fact that these companies are trying to come up with new additions to try to entice consumers to buy their products. It’s actually quite amusing that these companies are spending so much time developing smartphone apps, something we wouldn’t have expected a couple of years ago.S|A
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