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Four Z77-Based Mini-ITX Motherboards, Reviewed

The $150 Z77E-ITX is surprisingly feature-packed, providing a half-size mini-PCIe-based 802.11n wireless card and a third pair of USB 3.0 ports, in addition to the features you get built in to Intel's Z77 Express chipset. And, unlike the wary competitors who chose not to participate in today’s round-up, ASRock almost invites users to overclock aggressively by adding a CLR_CMOS button to its I/O panel (oh yeah, we know why that's there).

ASRock finally ditched the space-consuming on-board VGA connector in favor of a breakout block for DVI-I, also including HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.

Quite frankly, the mini-ITX form factor doesn’t leave enough room for companies to make many good or bad layout decisions, but we were a little disappointed by the Z77E-ITX’s lack of space for oversized CPU cooling. Crowding by the graphics card limited us to a 92 mm CPU fan and similarly-sized heat sink.

Internal connectors include four of the chipset’s six SATA ports, with one of the remaining ports re-routed to the I/O panel as eSATA. Two of the chipset’s four USB 3.0 ports also correspond to a front-panel connector, along with four of the chipset’s ten USB 2.0 ports.

Keeping in mind the size restrictions of mini-ITX, the only place we found the Z77E-ITX coming up short was its fan headers. Admittedly, many small cases have only a single fan. Several of ours have a pair, though, and one of the Z77E-ITX’s two fan headers is needed by the CPU cooler.

Though only accessible prior to system assembly, an mSATA slot on the Z77E-ITX's underside offers onboard storage capability to at least a few users, without further crowding the board's top side.

Two SATA cables are adequate for most mini-ITX and DTX cases, though enclosures designed to fit slim optical drives often require that you purchase an adapter cable separately to interface with its smaller power plug. It would have been nice to get one of those bundled. But because neither ASRock nor its competition includes it, the one thing separating the Z77E-ITX’s installation kit from the other boards we're reviewing appears to be the Magix multimedia suite on its software and driver CD.

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