Four Z77-Based Mini-ITX Motherboards, Reviewed

ASRock Z77E-ITX

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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37 comments
    Your comment
  • anxiousinfusion
    Years ago, decent mITX boards were slim pickings.
    6
  • Anonymous
    where are the dtx mobos for those that want a gaming graphics card as well as a dedicated sound card that isnt onboard crap?
    2
  • tarkhein
    Asus maintains a list of other technologies only found on its platform, including the ability to charge smartphones and tablets through its USB ports

    That technology is available from MSI and Asrock (and Gigabyte, but that's irrelevant in this roundup). Look up MSI i-Charger and Asrock App Charger.
    3
  • Crashman
    tarkheinAsus maintains a list of other technologies only found on its platform, including the ability to charge smartphones and tablets through its USB portsThat technology is available from MSI and Asrock (and Gigabyte, but that's irrelevant in this roundup). Look up MSI i-Charger and Asrock App Charger.
    All three companies have similar high-current charging features, but Asus extends them to non-Apple devices. The comment was originally left out due to the similarities and added later due to the differences.

    There was a big discussion between editors over whether or not the P8Z77-I Deluxe should get an award. The only award for "best features" is Tom's Hardware Approved, and that award is reserved for products that are clearly and obviously superior. The P8Z77-I Deluxe was a better board, but we had to look fairly hard to see it (it wasn't clear or obvious).
    1
  • amuffin
    So many variations between each board when it comes to OC......
    1
  • Crashman
    amuffinSo many variations between each board when it comes to OC......

    LOL, welcome to Windows 8.
    -2
  • abbadon_34
    "We retained most of the hardware from our previous Z77 motherboard round-ups, but were not able to reach the same CPU clock speeds. A shift over to Windows 8 was our biggest change, and services crashing under that operating system appeared to limit what we could achieve compared to Windows 7."

    CrashmanLOL, welcome to Windows 8.


    How about using Windows 7? Was a reason you HAD to use 8 despite encountering issues? Is there some contractual obligation or monetary incentive to use the lastest version regardless of performance issues? Or at least test them both, it's only 4 motherboards.
    0
  • enewmen
    I think Mini-ITX will be the new standard size.
    It's not like the 80s/90s where you needed a full size AT/ATX motherboard with many slots for the ST-506 controller, floppy disk controller, serial port, parallel port, Sound Blaster card, VGA card, token ring card, and an extra cooling fan.

    EDIT:
    I will later get a Mini-ITX later & Silverstone case, stick in a Noctua NH-C12P & Haswell i7, and my Nv 680. That will have very high power density and worthy of being my "main" PC. (and it will OC)
    1
  • abbadon_34
    One issue I see is the PCI-E x16 slot is at the very bottom of these boards, and most video cards use two slots, requiring a larger case than one that simply supporting the motherboard based on ITX/mini-ITX dimensions. I'd be interesting in exploring the limitations of such configurations, and whether these boards are effectively limited to single slot video cards (and performance), require larger cases than is assumed, or specific case configurations.
    -4
  • Crashman
    abbadon_34Was a reason you HAD to use 8 despite encountering issues?
    Standardization. The thought of having a spare drive on hand simply for testing O/C never even crossed my mind after hearing the "s" word.
    abbadon_34One issue I see is the PCI-E x16 slot is at the very bottom of these boards, and most video cards use two slots, requiring a larger case than one that simply supporting the motherboard based on ITX/mini-ITX dimensions. I'd be interesting in exploring the limitations of such configurations, and whether these boards are effectively limited to single slot video cards (and performance), require larger cases than is assumed, or specific case configurations.
    It's called DTX, it's mentioned in the article's FIRST paragraph, and Tom's Hardware even has DTX case reviews. Since most people don't know what DTX is, most case manufacturers have changed the label to read "Mini ITX". Still, there are a bunch of DTX cases out there caring the Mini ITX label.
    4
  • Onus
    The ASRock board also has that mSATA slot on its underside; I see that wasn't even mentioned on the feature chart. Did you even notice it? It wasn't mentioned in the review at all, and it's a nice feature. The only downside is that using it may block a CPU cooler backplate, but otherwise using it for a boot drive leaves the pair of 6Gb/s ports available for a RAID. Seems to me this extra port is a BIG advantage for the ASRock board.
    Edit: Thanks for the update!
    0
  • tomvertommen
    It would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup
    0
  • Crashman
    OnusThe ASRock board also has that mSATA slot on its underside; I see that wasn't even mentioned on the feature chart. Did you even notice it? It wasn't mentioned in the review at all, and it's a nice feature. The only downside is that using it may block a CPU cooler backplate, but otherwise using it for a boot drive leaves the pair of 6Gb/s ports available for a RAID. Seems to me this extra port is a BIG advantage for the ASRock board.
    The Onus to follow up was mine, thanks!
    tomvertommenIt would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup
    That's what we thought too. Please read the last paragraph on the first page.
    2
  • Anonymous
    amuffinSo many variations between each board when it comes to OC......

    i would like to see an OC comparison of how high they can push an i5-3570k instead of an i7-3770k because i7 OCs are a lot more consistent. i keep seeing and hearing about people struggling to get a good OC out of it on a wide range of boards with the i5. i have an asus p8z77-i deluxe and i was able to get my i5-3570k to 4.8ghz @ 1.22v stable with extreme load line, it was stable but a bit hot because of the limitations of my all in one cooler. i think i could easily get it 5ghz on my asus board. didnt know the asrock had an msata under neither the mobo, but there will be obvious problems with mounting anything other than an all in one if you plan on using a graphics card. the only thing i would change about my asus is its unfortunate color scheme that matches nothing, after its installed you cant see much anyway. i would have liked to see how the z77 gigabyte itx board compares
    0
  • Anonymous
    tomvertommenIt would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup

    i was thinking about that, the dual ethernet ports with teaming is pretty cool but i heard bad things about the overclocking capabilities on it. ultimately i went with the asus because it had the best wireless, good overclocking, best cpu position [others move it around making it hard when you choose a heat sink]
    0
  • Anonymous
    tomvertommenIt would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup

    me too. the dual ethernet with teaming is pretty cool but i heard it was a poor OCer. anyone else having trouble commenting?
    0
  • cknobman
    I am the most impressed with ASRocks offering.

    Comapring features, performance, power, and price I think it is an easy pick for winner.
    1
  • Onus
    Anonymous said:
    It would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup


    Anonymous said:
    ...That's what we thought too. Please read the last paragraph on the first page.

    Since this is a review site, I'm not sure I understand why Gigabyte had any say as to whether or not you reviewed their board.

    =====================

    I'd like to see some mini-ITX gaming builds featured in the SBM, but let me throw out concern #1, and that's heat. Not of the CPU, or of the GPU, but internal case temperature, and its effects on other components (e.g. VRMs and drives). I used the ASRock board in a PC-Q08R, which has two fans, and still one day in the middle of a game the board died. It was an i5-3570K at stock, and a HD7870 also at stock. The CPU was on the warmer side of normal (60C-63C iirc), but what blew was apparently a VRM on the mobo. Maybe it was a fluke, but I've decided that to be long-term viable, the graphics card in such a build MUST exhaust its heat (such as the HIS "Black Hole" models).
    0
  • jaquith
    enewmenI think Mini-ITX will be the new standard size.

    Umm...NO!

    Frankly, I really don't even like mATX and ATX is about all I use unless I'm building an HTPC or LAN box, or I need a 4-WAY then EATX.

    Simply 'if' I want a small box + OC then undoubtedly the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe is my top tier choice. This has been proven to be the best choice for some period of time i.e. since it was released. The OC'ing components are 'origamied' (folded) on to the MOBO so it's essentially an ATX with one major exception (1) one PCIe slot not to mention less 'stuff' e.g. SATA ports, etc.
    -2
  • jaber2
    You are testing Motherboards and you expect a diffrence with same cpu, hd, video card and memory? why would there be any change in performance?
    -2