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Four Z77-Based Mini-ITX Motherboards, Reviewed

Four Z77-Based Mini-ITX Motherboards, Reviewed
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Yes, you can get all of the functionality enabled by Intel's Z77 Express chipset in a tiny mini-ITX form factor! We round up four motherboards that uniquely approach the gaming and media center markets with a range of features and prices. Which is best?

Yes, you can get all of the functionality enabled by Intel's Z77 Express chipset in a tiny mini-ITX form factor! We round up four motherboards that uniquely approach the gaming and media center markets with a range of features and prices. Which is best?

Originally developed for boring tasks like industrial PCs and point-of-sale terminals, AMD breathed new life into VIA’s single-slot mini-ITX form factor with its own dual-slot DTX version. Soon after, the combination of motherboards with one expansion slot and cases able to take dual-slot cards became the standard for portable gaming PCs. But Intel ironically appears to be the biggest beneficiary of AMD's efforts. After all, it sells the high-performance, low-heat processors needed in a fast, quiet platform with big-time thermal constraints. Ouch.

As a result, we demand a lot more from small gaming-oriented machines. It's no longer acceptable to simply build a system that excels at video playback, particularly when technologies like AMD's VCE and Intel's Quick Sync accelerate that workload right on the APU or CPU itself. And with system builders putting 4.3 GHz Core i7s and GeForce GTX 680s into mini-ITX-based platforms four inches thick (Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box?), enthusiasts will no doubt want to the ability to build similarly-potent boxes. 

But if it's possible to cram the goodness of Intel's Ivy Bridge and efficient graphics architectures like Kepler into mini-ITX using Intel's mainstream H77 Express chipset, why bother spending more on a Z77 Express-based board? Well, it wouldn't have been possible for Falcon Northwest to have hit 4.3 GHz in its Tiki using H77, for starters. Overclocking demands that you spring for the pricier core logic. Although we doubt you'd care too much about tuning up a home theater PC, we’re nevertheless intrigued by motherboards that can serve that market in addition to the performance-hungry gaming industry.

We see today’s motherboards with Intel's flagship mainstream chipset as enablers of the best from both worlds. Of course, if you disagree and only really want to build a stock-clocked media-oriented machine, simply step down to the H77-based versions of the boards we're testing today.

Z77 ITX Motherboard Features
 ASRock
Z77E-ITX
Asus
P8Z77-I Deluxe
EVGA
Z77 Stinger
MSI
Z77IA-E53
PCB RevisionInitial1.041.02.1
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage RegulatorSix PhasesTen PhasesSeven PhasesEight Phases
BIOSP1.70 (12/17/2012)801 (12/04/2012)1.0 (11/08/2012)V10.1 (10/19/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.39 MHz (+0.39%)100.30 MHz (+0.30%)99.78 MHz (-0.22%)100.00 MHz (+0.0%)
I/O Panel Connectors
PS/21NoneNone1
USB 3.04442
USB 2.02424
Network1111
eSATA1221
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesYesYesYes
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio5353
VideoDVI-I, DisplayPort, HDMIHDMI, DisplayPort, DVI-Imini-DisplayPort, HDMIVGA, HDMI
Other DevicesWi-Fi AntennasWi-Fi/Bluetooth Antennas
USB BIOS Flashback
Bluetooth TransceiverWi-Fi, Bluetooth
Internal Interfaces
Expansion SlotPCIe 3.0 x16PCIe 3.0 x16PCIe 3.0 x16PCIe 3.0 x16
Mini PCIex1 (filled)x1 (filled)x1x1
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s2222
SATA 3.0 Gb/s2222
4-Pin Fan2232
3-Pin FanNoneNoneNoneNone
FP-Audio11None1
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyNoneNone
Internal ButtonsNoneMemOK, TPUPower, ResetNone
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNumericNone
LegacyCIRNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
1x mSATA
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x eSATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNone88SE6121 PCIe
2 x eSATA 3Gb/s
None
USB 3.0ASM1042 PCIe (2-ports)
Z77 Integrated (4-ports)
ASM1042 PCIe (2-ports)
Z77 Integrated (4-ports)
ASM1042 PCIe (2-ports)
Z77 Integrated (4-ports)
None
Networking
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYWG82574L PCIeRTL8111E PCIe
Wi-FiRTL8191SE PCIe
802.11n/g/b
1x2 Config, 2.4 GHz
BCM43228 PCIe
802.11n/g/b BT Combo
2x2 Config, 2.4/5 GHz
NoneAR9271 UB94 USB
802.11n/g/b
1x1 Config, 2.4 GHz
BluetoothNone(see above)BTA3011M01 USBAR3011 USB
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC898ALC898ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot Specified
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years


High-end chipsets represent only a small part of the mini-ITX market, so we weren’t surprised to find only a handful of available products. It was more surprising to us that there were two companies selling Z77-based boards that specifically asked not to be included. In some cases, it seems that vendors are using pricier Z77 Express platform controller hubs for segmentation, while focusing more intently on the markets typically served by H77's feature set.

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  • 6 Hide
    anxiousinfusion , January 10, 2013 5:23 AM
    Years ago, decent mITX boards were slim pickings.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 10, 2013 5:23 AM
    where are the dtx mobos for those that want a gaming graphics card as well as a dedicated sound card that isnt onboard crap?
  • 3 Hide
    tarkhein , January 10, 2013 5:26 AM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , January 10, 2013 5:40 AM
    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 Hide
    amuffin , January 10, 2013 6:03 AM
    So many variations between each board when it comes to OC......
  • -2 Hide
    Crashman , January 10, 2013 6:18 AM
    amuffinSo many variations between each board when it comes to OC......

    LOL, welcome to Windows 8.
  • 0 Hide
    abbadon_34 , January 10, 2013 8:43 AM
    "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.
  • 1 Hide
    enewmen , January 10, 2013 8:58 AM
    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)
  • -4 Hide
    abbadon_34 , January 10, 2013 9:06 AM
    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 Hide
    Crashman , January 10, 2013 9:52 AM
    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.

  • 0 Hide
    Onus , January 10, 2013 10:10 AM
    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 Hide
    tomvertommen , January 10, 2013 11:38 AM
    It would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , January 10, 2013 11:48 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 10, 2013 11:55 AM
    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 Hide
    Anonymous , January 10, 2013 12:15 PM
    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 Hide
    Anonymous , January 10, 2013 12:24 PM
    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?
  • 1 Hide
    cknobman , January 10, 2013 12:25 PM
    I am the most impressed with ASRocks offering.

    Comapring features, performance, power, and price I think it is an easy pick for winner.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , January 10, 2013 12:58 PM
    Quote:
    It would have been nice to see the Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard in the roundup


    Quote:
    ...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).

  • -2 Hide
    jaquith , January 10, 2013 2:43 PM
    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 Hide
    jaber2 , January 10, 2013 5:03 PM
    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?
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