ASUS really made a statement with their bold styling of their Z87, pulling a gold motif and aesthetic that is certainly a deviation from the blues we've been used to on mainstream and workstation boards of chipsets past. Personally, it grew on me, and it's nice to see something different, but I have no doubts that there are a number of people out there who are at least a bit turned off by it. I'd be really interested to know how the overall response has been and the impact it's had on sales. Let's get to the meat of the board design and features, shall we?
We'll start up close and personal with the power delivery components tucked neatly behind the edgy gold heatsink fins. ASUS has employed a robust 8-phase power delivery system utilizing efficient power delivery components, and even the attention to detail in styling the chokes is impressive and functional, as they act as small local heatsinks. This is a beefy power design, but a little bit simpler than the Deluxe model's 16-phase power design targeted towards enthusiast-level overclocking. But trust me, the robust, reliable 8-phase power design found on the workstation board will give you plenty of room to "play" while it continues to work hard day in and day out. Nobody says jack can't be all work AND play at the same time.
Taking a step back for a moment, we get a better look at the 3-fin, single heatpipe CPU socket cooling. Along the top of the board we see dual 8-pin connectors for power-hungre Xeon procs, as well as two fan headers along the top (seriously should be a required standard for every board, ASUS has been rocking these up top for some time now), EPU & TPU switches, the Directkey button (to allow auto-boot to BIOS), and the MemOK! button (which has saved me from many a failed overclock / RAM config). Of course, we've also got our 4 RAM slots which will support up to 32GB of total memory.
Nestled above the PCI-e ports is a 6-pin 12V EATX connector, and to enable quad-SLI / Crossfire at x8, ASUS has slapped a PLX chip onto the board to open up more PCI-e bandwidth for max utilization of ridiculous quad-card rendering or gaming setups. The PLX chip, in general, opens up alot of expandability for the owners of the Z87-WS.
The bottom of the board is busy. Big, clean power and reset buttons are included alongside TPM, firewire, and USB headers. Dual Q-code readouts help you pinpoint any errors your system might be encountering, and an internal USB 2.0 port rests next to the I/O headers. We also see some carefully-placed fan headers which will make connecting a front case fan clean and easy (dare we call it a breeze?). We also spy a CMOS reset button, an m-SATA connector, and a removable BIOS chip near the super clean-looking matte black southbridge heatsink.
We mentioned the workstation models having an emphasis on expandability, the whopping 10 SATA ports should hold credence to that. Oh, and they are ALL 6 GB/s connections handled by a Marvell controlelr as well as the Z87 chipset. ASUS' SSD caching solution built into the boards also means you can use one of those precious ports to buff up the speed of a reliable mechanical drive but enjoy the snappiness of an SSD. This feature really does work great, we've been using an earlier implementation on ASUS' X79 boards with great results. And just above the SATA ports, another cleverly-placed fan header for a second front fan. The little things really do add up. Oh, and I want to point out again that I LOVE the matte black and gold southbridge heatsink.
Again, more connectivity bombardment. *Breath* a PS/2 port allows you to connect your most trusty peripherals aongside 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, two high quality Intel NICs, 6-channel audio, firewire, displayport, HDMI, an optical port, and two e-SATA ports. Only your potentially brand-new Thunderbolt goodies will find themselves without a home. The BIOS flashback button is also a comfortable, convenient way to flash your BIOS (or potentially recover from a boo-boo).