Supermicro C7Z87-OCE Review
Surprise… surprise… Supermicro, well known server technology provider decided to enter the already crowded consumer market. There is a chance that most of you never heard of Supermicro before, but they have over 20 years experience in providing solutions for HPC, Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Big Data and Embedded Systems.
This is not a surprising move as Intel already announced that, after the launch of Haswell platform, they will not manufacture consumer motherboards anymore. Intel-made motherboards were acknowledged as highly reliable, stable and offered a great out-of-the-box experience, things which Supermicro can cover given their extensive server background.
Supermicro wants to push things even further with its advertising of the C7Z87-OCE as an overclocking oriented motherboard, a little daring considering this is their first contact with overclocking and consumer motherboards. I have no doubt that they can manage to pull out an overclocking motherboard hardware wise, but I strongly doubt they had the time and experience to fine tune the most important thing on such a motherboard: the BIOS.
Let’s not forget that the manufacturers that currently have overclocking motherboards had tweaked them for years and even hired OC legends for this task. It will not be easy for Supermicro to compete with that, but let’s not draw conclusions from the beginning and let’s first see what we have here.
Packaging & bundle
The box is very colourful, listing the main features on the front and the full specifications on the backside. We see Supermicro insisting on the overclocking capabilities of the board, certifying memory overclocks of up to 3000MHz.
The bundle is also reduced to your basic needs, meaning that you get a quick reference guide, DVD with drivers and utilities, I/O shield and 6 SATA cables.
PCB & connectivity
The board impresses with the construction quality, it actually reminds me of Intel-made motherboards from a couple of years ago. We can see that Supermicro is used to making serious server hardware, as this motherboard has some serious chokes and MOSFETs onboard; even the plastic of the connectors is stronger than what we are used to on regular consumer boards.
We can see that the heat sink on the PCH and on the VRM are simple and efficient as they should be. All the additional controllers can be disabled using jumpers straight on the motherboard, a little bit old school but I like it. It sports a very nice digital VRM using Vitec chokes, Debug LED onboard, two Intel Gigabit LAN controllers, standard Realtek ALC1150 integrated sound and Intel’s Thunderbolt controller.
If we talk about connectivity, Supermicro C7Z87-OCE is pretty standard when it comes to Z87 motherboards, having three PCI-Express 3.0 16x slots connected to the CPU and three PCI-Express 2.0 1x slots provided by the PCH. The PCI-Express 3.0 16x slots, even if they are all 16x electrical, can be configured as 16x / – / -, 8x / 8x / – or 8x / 4x / 4x.
You can connect a maximum of eight SATA 3 drives to the motherboard, using six native ports provided by the Z87 PCH and two additional ports offered y a 3rd party ASMedia ASM1061 controller. Beside the power button which is placed in a very unusual place on the top of the board near the CPU PWM, we also have 3 profile buttons (2 preconfigured and 1 configurable) and a Home button to reset settings. Ah, and we have a speaker onboard… which scared me the first time I powered on the motherboard.
Backpanel & VRM
On the backpanel we can see six USB ports (four of them being USB 3.0), two RJ45 LAN ports(Intel I210AT & Intel I217V), the integrated soundcard 3.5″ jacks, TOSlink optical output, one Thunderbold connector and 3 display outputs (D-SUB, DVI-I and HDMI). If you require DisplayPort connectivity you can obtain it through the Thunderbolt output.
The VRMs are built with high quality components and pretty massive for the class that this motherboard belongs to. The CPU VRM has 6 phases driven by the Primarion PX3746DDQ controller, each of them being composed of a Vitec ferrite choke, ceramic and polymer caps and Infineon TDA21215 driver MOS.
The memory subsystem is powered by a 2 phase VRM built with the same components, but driven by the Primarion PX3743DDQ controller.
Although the BIOS is UEFI, its interface has the old keyboard driven classical look but this isn’t a problem for me so I took out my Canon 40D and took some photos for you to see how it looks. I like the design and the responsiveness but I must complain about the spreading of overclocking options, it’s pretty difficult to find and change something fast, it’s not intuitive at all.
We can change the processor speed using one of the seven ready made profiles (4.2GHz, 4.3GHz, 4.4GHz, 4.5GHz, 4.6GHz, 4.7GHz and 4.8GHz) but also manually. For overclocking we can find all the necessary settings in the BIOS, from a first look only the load-line calibration setting seems to be absent.
In the memory tab we can set an XMP profile if the installed module has one or we can set it manually. We have no profiles and we must set all the parameters at once if we opt for manual settings. I would have preferred to have the possibility to set just the main timings and the secondary timings to be set on Auto. The tertiary timings are not event present in the BIOS so we can’t set them at all.
The monitoring of temperatures and voltages is good and pretty accurate. We have just one profile to save our BIOS setting, pretty poor for an “overclocking” motherboard if you ask me. First thing that I wanted to do was to update the BIOS but guess what? You can’t do that from the BIOS, so I lost about 30 minutes until I finally managed to complete this task. Why, you ask? Because the procedure is pretty complicated and involves jumpers, an USB drive and a very creative guy!
I was already pretty irritated about the BIOS update issue, but I was pretty enthusiastic about overclocking this new non-UEFI BIOS based motherboard. I used my “not so great” retail Core i7 4770k cooled by an Enermax Liqtech 120X AIO, Enermax Platimax 1350W PSU, Corsair Dominator Platinum 2400C9 DDR3 memory and an Intel 730 240GB SSD.
So I proceed like I always do: disable all unused features (audio, network, IGP, etc), deactivate all power saving features, set safe frequencies and voltages for CPU, select XMP profile, save settings and reboot. The result? No boot! This is the latest 2.0a BIOS, from may 2014 so I think they had enough time to debug all the problems since the initial release. So I modified the settings one by one to see what is the problem and how can I fix it. In the end I found out that this motherboard can’t boot with the XMP profile, so I started to set all the parameters manually. With all the settings I tried I didn’t manage to get over 2133MHz, so you can forget about the 3000MHz printed on the box…
The next thing I investigated is the CPU frequency. I set everything manually, booted in Windows and found out I was running at default non-turbo frequency. The problem was that whatever I set in BIOS regarding power limit, IA core current and voltage on the next reboot it was changed to some random values based on the profile I was on and / or the CPU multiplier. Very weird behaviour I must say!
Then I started to use the CPU frequency profiles which modifies CPU multiplier, power limit, IA core current and CPU voltage. I selected the 4.8GHz profile and then I set the multiplier manually because the CPU is not that good, in the end I got a decent 4.6GHz with 1.35v. You can’t set a fixed CPU voltage because the profile overrides that, so the only way to modify it is to use the CPU voltage offset.
It’s very hard to figure out the behaviour of this motherboard when it comes to overclocking, but the settings I got in the end were rock solid. The boot times were very good and the board recovered the BIOS after every wrong setting so I didn’t have to reset the BIOS.
I can say that I’m very happy to see new players in the consumer motherboard segment, because competition is always good. In terms of build quality, compatibility and out-of-the-box performance, Supermicro C7Z87-OCE can compete and exceed many of today’s players in the consumer market.
Regarding overclocking, on the other hand, I can say Supermicro’s first attempt is “ok” as they still have a lot of BIOS optimizing work to do, especially regarding memory training and auto-rules for voltages and power limits. You can find the C7Z87-OCE at a price of $250 which can be justified by the dual Intel Gigabit LAN and Thunderbolt features, and also by its build quality and 3 years warranty. If we talk strictly about overclocking, this motherboard is more expensive than the Gigabyte Z87X-OC or ASRock Z87 OC Formula, which are far better optimised for overclocking and guarantee much better results.
In the end I can say that it’s a good start for Supermicro and I can’t wait to test their new Z97 based motherboard which has a new UEFI BIOS and supposedly improved overclocking capabilities. I couldn’t recommend C7Z87-OCE for overclocking, but I would suggest it without a second thought if you’re looking for a moderately overclocked daily-use PC and you care about reliability and stability coming from a brand with vast experience in the server market.