Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

ECS Z77H2-A2X Deluxe

The Z77H2-A2X Deluxe continues ECS’ struggle to prove to the overclocking market that its mid-priced motherboards are stable and feature-packed. Having tested a few of the firm’s recent products, we find that its claims of overclocking stability are believable. What’s incredible to us is how unstable the company's prices are. We watched the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe drop from around $165 to around $145, and then shoot back up to $165 before we could publish our review. After hearing our concern, ECS reached an agreement with some of its channel partners to stabilize prices on new shipments at $160.

Now that the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe is once again able to compete with other boards in our sub-$160 story, we want to know how well it sizes up. An added pair of rear-panel USB 3.0 ports and eSATA are good steps towards securing the company's value goals.

Flipping to the top view, we discover four two-lane PCIe 3.0 pathway switches that allow a pair of x16 slots to go from x16-x0 to x8-x8 mode whenever a second graphics card is installed. Add to that a pair of voltage regulator heat sinks and a mini-PCIe slot that could be used for a notebook-style wireless card, and we’ve covered the full set of features that ECS uses to justify the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe’s price premium over less expensive competition, such as Asus' P8Z77-V LX.

ECS understands that some buyers make their purchase decision based on looks alone, so it applies the number 88 over the empty spot where a Port 80 diagnostics display is found on its higher-end models. Review readers aren’t so easily fooled.

The Z77H2-A2X Deluxe’s layout is good overall, with few concerns for users of certain older or low-cost cases. Those concerns include forward-facing SATA ports that almost butt up against the lower drive cage of many older cases, and a front-panel audio header that’s slightly out-of-reach for the short cables on a few poorly-designed cases. The easy solution to those worries is to choose a better chassis.

ECS includes six SATA cables and an SLI bridge in the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe installation kit. Those two extra cables likely cost pennies, but could save some builders a few dollars.

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67 comments
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  • LAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.
    -3
  • SpadeMLAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.
    Tom's Hardware has several controller comparisons, and publishes new ones frequently. So unless you think one of the boards has a broken controller, wysiwyg.

    The things that actually get screwed-up are typically related to the clock generator, multiplier control, memory timings and power options.
    1
  • I would place the ASRock and Gigabyte on the top as well : )

    Nice review.
    0
  • I always appreciate your Articles! :) I know how much work you do to get them done.

    You're kidding - Biostar. I guess this article is not about the 'Best Sub-$160 Z77' MOBO's but about the best manufacturers sent you. The cheapest MOBO I recommend for the SB/IB (K) is the ASUS P8Z77-V which pops your 'unique' budget cap depending where you shop; found it here for $159.99 - http://www.gadgetneeds.net/asus-p8z77-v-atx-intel-motherboard/

    Interesting you didn't get an ASUS P8Z77-V LK ~$120 which offers SLI. The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 and Gigabyte Z77X-D3H for the price aren't bad.

    There's NO WAY I'm recommending Biostar in the forum, folks and myself would thing I've lost my mind.
    0
  • It would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
    1
  • jimishtarIt would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
    1.25V
    4
  • No peripherals performance tests? Those are the only tests that differentiate those motherboards from each other.

    Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.
    0
  • gorillagarrettNo peripherals performance tests? Those are the only tests that differentiate those motherboards from each other. Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.
    I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared :)
    3
  • Quote:
    I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared


    Thank you!
    0
  • I would have liked to see the Asus P8Z77V-LK version instead of the LX since it is better equipped.
    -1
  • rolli59I would have liked to see the Asus P8Z77V-LK version instead of the LX since it is better equipped.
    It's also mentioned in the article. It was over $160 (at $165) when the comparison was set up.
    0
  • Why are there no DCP latency tests ? These differentiate the motherboards
    This is what differentiates them performance wise.
    0
  • Wow, Biostar...? I wonder what the longevity of that board is...
    0
  • pacioliWow, Biostar...? I wonder what the longevity of that board is...
    It's hard to tell, but the last Biostar board I had in a system lasted 12 years before it got dismantled for its entire processor selection being too slow.
    0
  • Nice to see a Mobo review where the charts are not all identical bars lol. It has been a long time sense the stock performance has had much of any variance between brands, and we are getting much more feature variety as well. I thought as more and more parts became integrated into the CPU that the bars would become more and more similar, and mainstream features would become more and more homogeneous.

    Also, I love the True Studio Pro software, if you are running digital audio it really makes any idea of a dedicated sound card a thing of the past. Every computer I build now either has True Studio Pro with the mobo, or I purchase the MB2 software suite, it makes such a difference if using headphones or quality speakers, and much less buggy that Creative's sound cards and driver issues that we all know and love.
    0
  • On-motherboard start buttons are a useless feature. Anyone who could actually use it should know they can just short across the power switch header using any piece of metal.
    -5
  • At this point SATA 6GB, USB 3 and PCI-e 3.o should be a standered and not a side option.
    0
  • As good as Asus motherboards are - why do they include such poorly made I/O brackets? Even Biostar and ECS include ones that are better made than Asus does.
    0
  • Another comment about why the P8Z77V-LK board was not reviewed. I own this board now after a total disaster with one of the boards you awarded so why is it missing? The ASUS P8Z77V-LK was priced at $149.99 when I purchased it and is now $139.99 with a rebate down to $119.99 after a quick check this morning. Based on your comments about the Biostar and ASRock boards having additional features like SLI/CF or additional USB 3 ports it is hard to understand why this board was not reviewed. The P8Z77V-LE is priced at $165 not the LK board. As to the 4-dimm testing, did you try the DDR3-2666 ratio or is the test overclocking the 2400 ratio?
    -2
  • goinginstyleAnother comment about why the P8Z77V-LK board was not reviewed.
    Because it was priced at $165 two months ago when the invitations went out. End of story.
    0