Taking a tour around the board, we see what has become a standard black PCB and ASUS' new gold motif adopted for their Z87 platform. We'll dive into the features in a bit more detail below - the Deluxe/Dual is laden with them. In a few ways Intel continues to pinch motherboard manufacturers' abilities to differentiate the core components of motherboards by mandating more and more standards relating to power delivery and other board controller parameters.
The result is that software and other ancilliary features have really become the differentiating mainstay, and ASUS has truly been a market leader here. The flagship features are ASUS' tried-and-true 16-phase power delivery architecture, which has been lumped into a "5X Protection" branding, dual-band AC wireless antennas and high-quality Intel NICs, dual thunderbolt connections (the first board to do so), a well-equipped "convenience" featureset (both hardware and software), and the best graphical UEFI in the business. Let's dive in.
From a hardware standpoint, much of ASUS' engineering mojo goes into the CPU and RAM power delivery system. Overall, this means stability and reliability, and for the hardcore enthusiast who understands the fine details of how processors work - the Digi+ digital VRM system gives tweakers alot of room for overclocks. ASUS inlcudes high-end chokes, MOSFETs, and 5K solid capacitors across the line, and the Deluxe/Dual sports a 16-phase power delivery system which distributes the power load across more "channels" which reduces the magnitude of ripple and other issues associated with higher power being delivered across fewer phases.
Another component of the "5X Protection" is the resettable "polyswitch," which prevents DRAM over-current damage - and not only that, it's not a self-sacrificing component so it can be reset in the event it's tripped for any number of reasons (an aggressive OC or other short-circuit scenarios). The circuitry also contains electro-static discharge (ESD) protection which is especially important during the build stage or for overclockers with table-top setups where static can be a danger lying in wait, and also if you should happen to plug in an out-of-spec component that leads to an ESD event through your I/O ports. Speaking of I/O ports, ASUS has made the rear I/O panel out of stainless steel, so corrosion shouldn't ever be an issue there.
I should also note another of my favorite features which is the MemOK! button, which boots your system and iterates a number of DIMM settings to find something that boots. This button gets used alot when I'm doing a "bad" job at overclocking my RAM and is a super-huge convenience in thsoe instances without having to resort to a wholesale CMOS reset.
There are I/O features a-plenty on the Deluxe/Dual, which we've come to expect from ASUS' premium mainstream board lineups. It's ready to rock 3-way SLI or CrossFire with 3 PCI-e 3.0 ports which will allow x16, dual x8, or x16/dual x4 tri-card setups with the help of increased PCI-e bandwidth enabled by an additional PLX chip for PCI-e multiplexing. Supplementing the expansion slots are an additional four x1 PCI-e 2.0 ports.
The bottom of the board includes power and reset buttons on-board, dual Q-code diagnostic LEDs, a CMOS clear button (hurray for not messing with the battery), the DirectKey button which allows boots straight to BIOS, which has come in super handy, TPU (turbo preset) and EPU (eco-friendly low-power preset profile) switches, and your typical USB 2.0 and case headers. The front of the board also includes a USB 3.0 header, which has become standard equipment these days.
Z87 enables up to 6 USB 3.0 and 6 SATA 6 GB/s lanes without additional controllers being added, so we see a fully-tapped loadout in the Deluxe/Dual. The SATA array includes six SATA 6GB/s ports and two SATA 3 GB/s ports - pretty well-equpped. Moving around to the stainless steel back panel, we've got 6 USB 3.0 ports, 4 USB 2.0 ports, the BIOS flashbaack button which we've rant and raved about before by saving our bacon after a variety of BIOS-related funkiness, an HDMI port for the on-chip Z87 graphics, dual high-end Intel NICs, dual Thunderbolt ports, the dual-band Wi-Fi headers, 8-channel audio equipped with DTS processing, and an optical SPDIF port.
The all-black PCB looks clean on the back of the board, and we can see a typical Intel moutning pattern which is backwards-compatible with LGA 1155/1156 so you won't need to worry about finding compatible coolers. ASUS has also made it standard practice to include a removable BIOS chip, so if the DirectKey, MEM OK!, Clear CMOS, and USB BIOS Flashback don't allow you to overcome a bad OC/BIOS setting, you don't need to brick the whole board- ASUS can simply send you a new BIOS chip... much easier on many levels.
The dual-band Wi-Fi antenna has a clean look and sits as nicely on a desk as it does being tucked away somewhere with swivel stand. The NFC Express brick has two additional USB 3.0 ports and offers flexibility to login or quick-launch via NFC, setup auto-backup with NFC-enabled devices, or use an NFC-enabled device for remote control of your computer. We'll talk more on that in a bit.